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Scholarship Timelines for High School Students

One of the questions that we tend to get the most is how a high school student (freshman, sophomore, or junior) can prepare for scholarships. Most people will tell you to start as early as possible, and that's true, but today we decided to get a little bit more specific and tell you exactly what you should be doing at each point of you or your student's high school career. Let's get into it.


1. Pick 5 colleges that you would be interested in attending. Make sure there are a variety of private and public, in-state and out-of-state, and small and large. Search to find which merit scholarships each of those schools provides and try to find the qualifications for those scholarships. For example, eligible applicants for the Cheatham-White scholarship at NC A&T (comparable to the Morehead-Cain at UNC-Chapel Hill or Parks Scholarship at NC State) must have a weighted 4.0 or higher GPA and at least a 1280 SAT or 28 ACT.

2. Make that GPA and SAT score your goal! If you start now, there is no reason you can't put yourself in position to reach that goal. Start thinking about the SAT now and thinking about what classes you need to take. Choose to take more competitive classes in the subjects you know you do well in. Colleges (and some scholarships) pay attention to the strength of your transcript which includes how competitive the classes were that you chose to take.

3. Get a list of scholarships from your guidance counselor. Search for a few of those scholarships online and see what types of questions the essay prompts ask. Half of the battle to win scholarships is writing the essay so start thinking about that now.


1. Find a FREE SAT Prep Course and start prepping. Take several practice SAT exams.

2. Go back to the academic goals you set freshmen year. How does your GPA look currently? Do you need to take a few advanced classes? Have you taken a practice SAT yet? How did you score?

3. Outside of a sport, join a group or organization that matches your passion or interests. The essay that you write will have to include more about who you are and that will include what you are able to accomplish or experience in extracurricular activities.

4. Find a community service activity if you haven't already. Be consistent in that activity. This will also be important for what you are able to talk about in a scholarship essay or on your resume.


1. This is your most important academic year. The scholarships that you can apply for will be totally dependent on your GPA and some are even dependent on your SAT scores. This is the year to focus making your GPA as strong as possible so be very strategic about the classes you take.

2. Prepare to take the SAT at least twice this year. If you choose to apply to colleges early decision (which we strongly suggest) you want to have at least two chances (maybe even a third if possible) to get the best score possible on those standardized tests.

3. Try to obtain a leadership position in the organization(s) that you have joined. So many scholarship essays will ask about how you have been a leader. You want to be able to show that you are committed to an organization enough to take on a leadership role,

4. Go back to your guidance counselor with a list of schools you want to attend. Ask, again, about scholarships you may be eligible for based on your grades. After you have that conversation, go back and do your own research. Start to cultivate a list of scholarships that you want to apply for. This list should include national, local, and school-based merit scholarships.

The Summer Before Senior Year

1. Begin drafting scholarship essays. It's time to start writing! Now, some of the scholarships on your list may not be open yet. Meaning, you won't be able to find out the essay prompt until then, but start with the ones that are.

2. If you are planning on applying early decision (which we strongly suggest because most merit scholarships need you to apply early to be eligible) start preparing those college application essays as well.

3. Get organized. Place all scholarships in a excel spreadsheet and make sure you have reviewed deadlines, eligibility requirements, how much money is awarded, the word count for essays, etc.

3. DO NOT ASSUME YOU CAN USE THE SAME ESSAY FOR EVERY SCHOLARSHIP. You can organize your scholarship essays so that essays with a similar prompt can get the same or similar essay, but do not get lazy with essays. The most competitive scholarships are expecting a high quality essay. Take your time.

4. Do not turn any essay without getting at least one person to review your essay (outside of a parent). Find someone who can check you grammar, sentence structure, and overall essay. The last thing you want is an essay that doesn't even answer the question!


1. Prepare the scholarships by order of their due date. There will be some scholarships due as early as October and as late as June of the next year. To make sure you take advantage of all of those, complete scholarships in order of their due date.

2. Prepare any early college application and any supplementary application materials for merit scholarships. Remember that most colleges want an early application in order to be eligible for merit scholarships, and some of those scholarships want supplementary materials through a separate portal.

3. Turn in your FAFSA early.

4. Secure any necessary letters of recommendation.

5. Win Money!!

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