Planning for College Scholarships in High School

By Sarah Brodsky , last updated January 10, 2012

Most students don't apply for college scholarships until their junior or senior year of high school, but it's smart to begin planning for scholarship applications early in your high school career. Getting good grades is important, but keep in mind that a scholarship application committee will probably look at more than your school transcript. You should also find a subject or activity that interests you and try to excel in that area. Other aspects of planning for scholarship applications include practicing essay writing and finding teachers or mentors who can serve as references. In addition, you should research scholarships and choose which ones to apply for.

Study Hard

Some scholarships place more weight on grades and test scores than others, but any scholarship committee wants to see that you're a good student. Make it a priority to study for your classes, and watch out for extra credit opportunities that can help bring your grades up. It's not enough to get As in classes that are too easy for you; scholarship committees will also consider which classes you take and how rigorous they are. Enroll in the most challenging courses that you and your guidance counselor feel you can succeed in. Also, prepare for the SAT or ACT. Plan on taking standardized tests slightly sooner than you have to so that if you're not happy with your scores you'll have time to retake the tests.

Explore Your Interests

Many scholarships are open only to students who are involved in particular sports or hobbies; others are open to anyone but expect students to provide evidence of participation in extracurricular activities. Find a few activities that you enjoy and commit to them. See if you can reach leadership positions within these activities, such as by becoming the president or secretary of a student club. Even if you don't hold an official title, find ways to take the initiative and act as a leader. For example, you could organize a team fundraiser or plan a group community service project.

Work on Your Writing Skills

You'll have to write essays when you apply for scholarships, so start practicing ahead of time to improve your writing skills. Write short essays about obstacles you've overcome or experiences that have shaped you. If you need ideas, use the Internet or a library to find essay questions that have been on scholarship applications in the past. Ask a friend or mentor to read your essays and give you feedback.

Develop Relationships with Mentors

Scholarship applications ask for names of people who can recommend you. They usually ask those references to provide confidential letters describing your achievements and potential. You can plan for this part of the application process by finding mentors. A mentor may be a coach, a teacher, or a professional in your community.

Research Available Scholarships

Websites like and feature links to scholarship websites and to lists of scholarships. Read through the various scholarships' requirements and figure out which ones you might qualify for. Ask your school and your parents' employers if they offer any college scholarships. When you identify scholarships you might want to pursue, mark their application deadlines on your calendar.

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