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ACF Leadership Blog


Opinions, thoughts and ideas from the leaders of the Arizona Community Foundation, Arizona’s largest statewide philanthropic grantmaker.

The Search for Scholarships
By Joy Klein, Director of Scholarships / February 9, 2018
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For many students, scholarships serve as that first spark in a series of successes throughout their higher education and career. While you’ve likely heard before that it’s incredibly valuable to apply for scholarships, sometimes it’s tough to know where to get started.

To make the search less overwhelming, we’ve put together a few tips on finding and applying to scholarships.

Tips on finding the right scholarships

Whether you’re a high school senior, a nontraditional student, or a current college student, check out our advice on where to begin the hunt for scholarships.

Look for public, free scholarship tools

There are hundreds of tools that will help you scour databases of scholarships. When deciding which ones to use, make sure that the tool directs you to free scholarships and is hosted by a credible organization.

Unfortunately, there are many scams online positioned to look like scholarships. If an organization asks you to pay when applying to a scholarship or signing up for its search tool, it’s likely a scam. If you’re unsure about the organization funding or advertising a scholarship, talk to your school’s college counselor.

Some useful tools for searching for scholarships include:

The Arizona Community Foundation also provides students with a free online portal containing more than 100 Arizona college scholarships. By completing one application, you’ll be automatically matched with available scholarships for which you’re eligible.

Focus your search locally

While there are many excellent national scholarships available to students, don’t forget to keep an eye out for private scholarships awarded by local organizations in your community. Local scholarships are typically open to a smaller group of students, providing you with more visibility among the pool of applicants.

Local organizations will often provide educational resources and events to help you find these scholarships, too.

Here in Arizona, the Phoenix Public Library offers the College Depot, providing free college planning services to students across Phoenix.

Additionally, some organizations will host free scholarship expos. Our statewide affiliates Yavapai County, Sedona, Yuma and the Gila Valley host Cash for College Scholarship Awareness Nights, which connect students with local scholarship providers to answer questions and provide guidance on applications.

Meet with your school counselor

Talking to your school’s college counselor may be an effective way to start identifying the kind of scholarships that suit you as an applicant. Tell your counselor about your hobbies, interests, extracurricular activities and involvement in athletics. Ask for guidance toward scholarships that align with you as a student and request details on how to apply for these scholarships.

Once your counselor has helped you find a starting point, identify similar characteristics among those scholarships to help find other opportunities. Then it’s time to begin applying!

Tips on writing an effective scholarship application

When writing your scholarship application, it’s important to remember that there is no universally correct format. Keep in mind that scholarship award decisions are determined first and foremost by the scholarship’s eligibility criteria.

However, there are a few ways that you can prepare your scholarship application to appear professional, polished and serious about pursuing your education.

The basics of a strong scholarship application

As a rule, avoid the following common mistakes in scholarship applications:

  • Not capitalizing names and sentences.
  • Demonstrating poor grammar and spelling.
  • Writing an essay response containing fewer than two paragraphs or 300 words.
  • Utilizing references that demonstrate minimal effort.
  • Waiting until the last minute to apply.

Do your research on each scholarship

When applying for individual scholarships, take some time to learn why the scholarship was first created. Many private scholarships are created by individuals and families with a unique and personal inspiration to help students achieve their higher education goals.

Understanding the goals and aspirations of the scholarship as a whole will help you better explain why you’re a suitable candidate for the reward.

Read the application instructions carefully

By paying close attention to the instructions for applying to a scholarship, you will produce a stronger application that demonstrates your attention to detail. Nothing frustrates a scholarship reviewer more than an application that doesn’t abide by the provided guidelines.

Prepare your letters of recommendation

Many scholarship applications, including the Arizona Community Foundation’s, require letters of recommendation from teachers, coaches, mentors, and other credible figures. Reach out to those who you’d like to serve as a recommendation at least three to four weeks before the application deadline to ensure they have plenty of time to write the letter.

When asking for a letter of recommendation, be polite, appreciative and respectful of the time commitment. Make sure to provide any information they might need, such as a resume detailing your work and extracurricular experience.

Begin applying for scholarships today

 Even when the process of applying feels a little overwhelming, keep your head up. There are millions of dollars in scholarships available to students just like you.

Last year, the Arizona Community Foundation awarded nearly $1.7 million to thousands of Arizona students to help them pursue their higher education goals. These students attended a wide range of colleges, from Arizona's three universities to Stanford, Duke, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the University of Hawaii, among many others.

If you’d like to apply to any of the 100+ scholarship opportunities available through the Arizona Community Foundation, begin your application today. The deadlines for ACF scholarships are March 16 and May 18. We recommend submitting your application by the March 16 deadline so you can be matched to as many scholarships as possible.

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