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When to Apply for Scholarships

Scholarships are a great way to lower the financial burden of college. However, in the midst of college applications and standardized tests, many students don’t know when to apply for scholarships. Let’s talk about how to manage your deadlines to maximize your scholarship awards!

Apply as early as possible

It may feel tempting to put off scholarship applications until you get accepted into a college. However, it’s best to start as soon as you can. While most scholarships may be targeted at high school seniors, you can apply to some as early as freshman year. If you need help finding scholarships that you qualify for, you can use the Scholarships360 scholarship search tool to filter by a variety of categories, including grade level.

Scholarship requirements

Although some scholarships may only require a short-response paragraph, others have much more involved application processes. Oftentimes, you’ll need to provide transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation, and even financial documents. It can take some time and planning to gather all of the materials you need, and you don’t want to be scrambling at the last minute. Try to have as many of these documents on hand as possible. 

Keep track of deadlines

While you can apply to scholarships year-round, many deadlines fall between September and May. Therefore, many students research upcoming scholarships during the summer. Even if you find scholarships that haven’t opened yet, use your free time to brainstorm essay topics. You can also start marking your calendar with deadlines throughout the year so that you’re not caught off-guard.

It can also help to set goals for yourself to stay on track. For example, you can plan to apply to six scholarships each month, or to spend two hours every Saturday working on applications. Creating measurable objectives throughout the year can motivate you to consistently put in work instead of saving it all for the day before the deadline.

Prioritize federal aid

If you’re a college student or a senior in high school, the most important scholarship is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Funded by the federal government, the FAFSA provides grants, loans and work-study opportunities to over 13 million college students each year. Students can begin filling out their FAFSA for the next year on October 1st, and they must complete it for the previous year by June 30th. Therefore, in order to get aid for your freshman year of college, you can start your application in October of your senior year of high school.

Many states have their own deadlines, which you can check on the Federal Student Aid website. Some may allocate funds on a first come, first served basis. Therefore, submitting your application early can make the difference of hundreds or even thousands of dollars in scholarship money.

Choosing which scholarships to apply for

If you’ve done any scholarship research, you know that there are tons of scholarships out there! So, how do you filter through all of those scholarships and how do you know which ones are best to apply for? Let’s take a quick minute to look at what scholarships are worth applying to and how you can assess them on your own!


It’s important to consider how competitive a scholarship will be. It shouldn’t discourage you from applying, but you should use it to gauge your expectations. A $10,000 scholarship that is given to only one student through a lottery style award is probably not one that you should count on getting. You might, but chances are there are potentially tens of thousands of other applicants. 

Award amount

The truth is that some scholarships won’t be worth the hassle. It’s true that any money helps, but a scholarship that asks for a multistep application probably isn’t worth only a $250 award amount. Pay attention to what scholarships are renewable as well, as a $250 renewable scholarship would actually be worth $1,000!

Application process

Prepare yourself for some very thorough scholarship applications. While it would be great if they all just needed to see your grades, some will require much more than that. They may ask for an interview, examples of work you’ve done, letters of recommendation and more. Often these scholarships may come with a higher award amount, but remember that you are putting in a lot of time and effort to potentially receive that money. As a reminder, there should never be a fee to apply for any scholarships!

Student Loans

Ideally you will be able to find scholarships that can cover all of your college expenses. However, it’s possible that for any number of reasons, you may be left with a set amount of money that you owe and can’t cover with scholarships. If that is the case and you can’t cover those expenses out of pocket, you’ll need to know how to take out student loans. Student loans come in many different forms. Be sure to research them thoroughly before you take any out!

Federal work study

Before we wrap up, let’s talk about one other form of funding that you can take advantage of while you’re in school. The federal work study program is a way that students can earn money for school through working. If this sounds like something you would be interested in, then you should take time to look into it while you are applying to scholarships!

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • It’s never too soon to start searching for scholarships to apply for
  • Be sure to consider what scholarships are worth your time and which ones may be better left until you have applied for all the other scholarships you want first
  • Having transcripts, people on hand to ask for letters of recommendations from, previous copies of your grades, and other documents are great to have on hand to make applying for scholarships that much quicker and easier
  • If you find that scholarships are not enough to cover all of your college expenses, look into student loans and work study programs to help pay for things as well
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about when to apply for scholarships

How soon is too soon to apply for scholarships?

There’s really no time that is too soon to be applying for scholarships. The sooner you can gather a list of potential scholarships and their deadlines the better! If you begin looking during freshman year, you may be able to start a great list for your future self that you can grow over the next two years. Don’t forget that there are scholarships for college students as well!  

Do you apply for scholarships before or after applying?

During your senior and even junior year of highschool, you’ll likely be filling out scholarship applications and college applications simultaneously. You don’t need to wait to be accepted into a college before you apply for scholarships. Some of them may say that recipients need to be enrolled in a college, but what that really usually means is that at the time of use, you need to be at a college or university. Those who award scholarships know that many students will be making the transition to college and are still in high school at the time that they apply.  

What is the best time to apply for scholarships?

The best time to start applying for scholarships is all the time! It’s true that more scholarships may be open during the school year, but there’s no one specific season for scholarships. Because so many scholarships come from private companies or individuals, they can set their own deadlines that can open and close whenever they please and do not need to be based on any sort of schedule. Always be on the lookout for scholarships!