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The Early Bird Gets the Scholarship Dough: How and why to start your scholarship search early

Don't feel bad if the following story appears too much like a page from your life. Sara is a high school senior who spends all of her time on her college applications. This is no easy task with SATs to take, essays to write, countless application forms to complete and teachers to coax into writing recommendations. Plus, she does all of this while keeping her grades up and trying to enjoy her last year in school.

Sara's whole first semester passes like a blur. By January she is done with her college applications. Although she feels like taking it easy, Sara knows that she's only halfway done. Besides getting into college she also needs to figure out how to pay for all of this education. Sara naturally turns to scholarships. Browsing a few books and the Internet, she finds some awards that are perfect for her. Excited at the thought of winning some money, she is ready to apply. There is just one small problem. The deadlines for these awards have passed.

For many high school seniors this is an all too familiar story. By the time you are done with your college applications and turn your attention to scholarships, it's too late for some awards. The unfortunate fact is that there are a lot of scholarships that are due in the fall. Whether you delay because of procrastination or you are preoccupied with college applications, if you wait you lose.

To make sure you don't miss out on scholarships with fall deadlines, we recommend the following:

Begin your scholarship search during the summer of your junior year - or earlier. Why wait until you are smack dab in the middle of the craziness of your senior year to start looking for scholarships? As a junior or even sophomore or freshman, you can begin to search for scholarships now. The number one reason most seniors miss the fall deadlines is simply because they do not start their scholarship search until the spring. Either on paper or computer, create a master file of the awards you want to apply to along with their deadlines. Keep your list organized by deadline so that you can clearly see which awards are due in the fall.

Preview the future with scholarship search engines. Most online scholarship search engines make you fill out a profile form in order to match you to specific scholarships. You can usually edit this profile and rerun the search. But there is nothing that says you can't get a preview by filling out the profile as if you were a senior. This way you will force the search engine to show you scholarships that will be due when you are a senior. Just be sure to change your profile back once you are done.

Treat scholarship applications like college applications. When it comes to applying to college you probably try to pace yourself by doing a little each week so that you can get everything done by the deadline. (Or at least that's your lofty goal.) Use this same strategy with scholarships. For the scholarships that are due in the fall, make them a part of your normal homework routine. Work on a little every day just as you would your college applications. This will prevent you from being overwhelmed and more importantly, insure that you don't turn in a hastily completed, last minute application.

Save time by reusing your college application essays for scholarships. While you won't be able to simply copy and paste your college admission essays into scholarship applications, there is nothing wrong with reusing parts of those essays. For college admission you will probably write at least one essay about your extracurricular activities, hobbies or interests. In your scholarship essays you'll also want to mention some of these activities as part of a larger essay about yourself. You can save yourself some time by pulling out pieces from your college admission essays and reusing them in your scholarship essays.

Don't despair even if you do miss a deadline - there will always be more. Even if you discover a great scholarship that you missed, don't stress about it. The secret to winning scholarships is that you must apply not only when you are in high school but also throughout college as well. So even if it's the second semester of your senior year, your scholarship search is just beginning. Apply for the awards that you haven't missed and get ready for next year when as a college student a whole new door of opportunities will open.

When it comes to winning scholarships, students who start early really do win more money. While you have a busy life and a thousand things going on at once, if you carve out a little bit of time to work on scholarships now you will be happily rewarded with some money to pay for school when you graduate.

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