Written by: Ashlee Giles, Ouachita University

You may have applied to college, made a visit to campus and thought about what you want to study, but now reality is setting in – you need to figure out how to pay for college. At Ouachita, once you are accepted and have submitted your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you will receive a financial aid award letter that shows your scholarships, grants and available loans that will help you cover the costs of college.

But what if you want to close the gap between what your financial aid awards cover and what you will still owe? What if you want to take out a smaller loan than what is available to you, but you don’t know where to come up with the money? What if you need money to cover books? There is another financial aid source that you don’t want to pass up: private scholarships.

Private scholarships are monies that you may be eligible for, but you must look and apply for on your own. Basically, they aren’t scholarships you would receive from Ouachita or the government, but they are scholarships that you could use toward your Ouachita education costs. Ouachita has a list of scholarship sites that you can look into on our Financial Services Private Aid Sources webpage. There are scholarships available to Arkansas residents, out of state residents, minority students and more!

But before you begin your search and start applying for private scholarships, consider a few of these tips:

1. Get organized. Have a notebook/binder that you can section off by months. Every scholarship has a deadline, so if you organize by month based on the deadline of each scholarship, it helps with not getting overwhelmed. Take it one bite at a time!

When getting organized, make note of the scholarships that require a recommendation letter. If you can approach a mentor and ask for four recommendation letters at a time and give them addressed/stamped envelopes for each one, they will be much happier to help you than if you go back every week for four weeks and ask for a new letter. Spend their time wisely! And at least two weeks’ notice for requesting a recommendation letter is especially polite.

2. Create a separate email. Creating a separate email account that you only utilize for scholarship searches and applications helps keep things simple. You don’t want to skip over an email about scholarship details when you’re skimming for a shopping coupon or an email your grandmother sent you!

3. Utilize your school resources. Make a friend in the person at your high school who helps distribute scholarship information. Bring them a Sonic gift card and a plea to help you connect with as many school and local scholarships as you can.

4. Utilize your community resources. Try a simple Google search for your county/state to see what local or state-related scholarships are available. Keep in mind that you should never have to pay for a private scholarship search. If you reach a website asking you to do so, look elsewhere. Check with local businesses or even the Chamber of Commerce. You might also find that your church or local church association provides scholarships.

5. Go for the essays. Don’t just apply for the “drop your name in a hat” scholarships and skip over the scholarships that require a little bit more of your time. You could still be the lucky one whose name gets drawn, so we still encourage you to apply for those, just don’t ONLY apply for the “easy to obtain” scholarships.

The odds of you getting an essay-based scholarship are actually greater as most students either think they are not good writers, or they simply don’t have the time or don’t want to put in the time that it takes to write an essay. You don’t have to be the best writer, and you would be surprised at how quickly you could crank out 1,000 words just writing down your opinion!

6. Get started. Commit to searching and applying for scholarships. Set aside several hours a week that you can dedicate to the scholarship process. Even if you only get one $1,000 scholarship, it will still be time well spent. You do the math!

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