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When to Apply for Scholarships

Scholarships can be 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. Starting your applications too late can mean missing out on significant financial aid. 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.

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 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.

If you need to provide letters of recommendation, you’ll also want to allow your references plenty of time to draft their submissions. Once you’ve decided who to ask, give them a heads up well in advance, as well as a few days to accept or decline. That way, if they say no, you’ll have enough time to find someone else. If they agree, you’ll want to provide them with the details about a month before the due date.

See also: How to ask for a letter of recommendation for scholarships 

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, you can 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. Overall, it accounts for a large portion of financial aid. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average federal grant for undergraduates at public colleges totaled $5,200 for the 2018-19 school 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.

See also: FAFSA guide

According to the federal government, you have nearly a two-year window to complete your FAFSA application. However, many states have their own deadlines, which you can check on the Federal Student Aid website. Some may also 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.

If you’re thinking about applying for scholarships, there’s no time like the present. The sooner you start, the more opportunities you can open yourself up to. Good luck on your search!