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Applying to college is a difficult and expensive prospect. You might even ask yourself if it is worth it to apply to your top schools if they seem financially out of reach. But with thousands of scholarships and grants out there, it can be possible to reach for the stars in your applications.

There are many minority-specific scholarships out there; some athletic, and others based on academic merit. What they all have in common is extreme competition. Tens of thousands of high school seniors and juniors are vying for just a few spots available.

But if you can stand out when applying for scholarships, financial aid can be within reach. Beyond the limited number of full-ride scholarships, there are plenty of scholarships and grants that offer partial aid to minority students.

This article will show you how to have a distinctive and attractive application.

Make Your Diversity Personal

Being a minority is not a story in itself. Being a first-generation immigrant is not a story. Not having enough money to pay for college is not a story. These are exactly the points that almost all underrepresented scholarship applicants will have in common. Get out of the box and change your thinking about how you belong in the world through your scholarship essay.

You need to be able to articulate how it has shaped your view of the world. This can brush up against sensitive topics and hard truths about America. Do not be afraid to lean into this. Minority students generally have the lowest enrollment in college, you are working hard to change that!

Scholarships are looking for candidates who are not nervous about hurting anyone’s feelings. You should do your best to put whoever the reader of your submission essay is in your shoes. If they start to see the world as you do, or question what they take for granted, that’s a successful scholarship essay.

Celebrate Yourself and Your Heritage

There are going to be many scholarship applicants that focus on the hardships minority groups face. While you don’t have to shy away from your truth, a candidate who exudes positivity will stand out in their scholarship essay.

Overcoming obstacles is the most written essay topic for any application. Show them what you’ve done after you’ve overcome struggles and the unique attributes only you have.

Minority scholarships are looking to see how being African American, or Asian American, or American Indian has specifically affected your life. By telling your personal truth you can shine and honor who and where you come from!

Have Great Letters Of Recommendation

Be very careful with whom you pick to write your scholarship application letters of recommendation. Usually, you will be asked to have one teacher and one member of your community write on your behalf. Give these people plenty of time to write something. In fact, it can be helpful to tell them the deadline is a week earlier than it actually is if they are prone to procrastination.

Be wary of asking anyone related to you to write a letter of recommendation. A scholarship review committee will most likely assume your relatives don’t come with an unbiased viewpoint.

Make sure you let a community member know to be detailed when describing you and your character. Specific examples are always a rule of thumb when writing recommendation letters.

It can be useful to sit down and have a formal interview with your letters of recommendation writers, so they can ask questions, and you can both discuss what should be packed into a short letter.

Have An Excellent Academic Record

If you are seriously interested in higher education then you must show it in high school, as college will only be a greater challenge. Minority scholarships can have smaller pools of applicants and thus stricter standards for high marks. Before you even start applying for scholarships make sure your class grades are up to par if you are after a merit-based award.

Take all the challenging classes your school offers. AP and IB courses are a great way to show you take your education seriously. High test scores are vital for a strong application. You should take the SAT and ACT until you are proud of your marks.

Don’t Reuse Essays

Every scholarship application needs to be unique. Each organization you apply should to be able to tell you have written something just for them. They will know if you just have one form essay you’re submitting to dozens of scholarships.

Community Service

Being a part of your community is a sure-fire to stand out as a scholarship candidate. Charity work with an organization that benefits people in your minority group makes you pop in the pile of candidates.

When you accept minority scholarships you become a representative for your group. With all this pressure, scholarship committees are looking for people that already show an interest in community service.

Highlight Extracurriculars

Do you play sports and take dance classes on the side while designing jewelry for fun? Let the scholarship committees know that! You want to show you are more than an excellent student (you want to show that too!) but also excel outside of school.

If you worked a full-time job or internship over the Summer, that demonstrates a dedicated personality with a career-oriented attitude.

If your school has a Black Student Council or other minority-specific organization, joining this group can be a great way to be an active member of your community. These organizations also give you the chance to network and brainstorm application ideas with friends and peers who are going through the same process.

Have a Professional Attitude

If you have an in-person or video conference interview as part of the scholarship application process, your presentation counts. For a video interview, make sure your camera background is neutral and your room is neat. Always dress cleanly and polished.

The interviewer is looking to award a scholarship to a young adult who can articulate their career goals and has a long-term plan. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be yourself and have fun! Being robotic and just listing goals and achievements can cause you to be lost in the candidate pool.

This is your chance to show a panel that you are more than words on paper. Use this moment to make a real connection. Look up who will be interviewing you if possible and see what you may have in common with them.

If it feels more like a conversation than an interview — you’re doing it right!

Monitor Your Social Media

Keep your Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook accounts PG-13. What does this mean?

Well, if you have to ask yourself if you should post that photo or video, then you shouldn’t. It’s not worth it if it disqualifies your application. Remember, you want to be seen as an adult college student, not a high schooler.

If you have a Reddit account or post on other message boards, make sure you are anonymous. It is easier than you might think to trace everything you’ve ever posted online back to you. If the wrong information pops up when you are inevitably Googled, you might stand out in the wrong way.

However, a great social media presence that highlights your passions and interests will make you a more interesting and colorful scholarship candidate.

Look For Opportunities At Home

Top schools can be extremely competitive and have fewer opportunities for scholarships and grants. When you apply to local colleges and state schools you can stand out more than being grouped in with thousands of applicants.

There are also often financial benefits to applying to local colleges, as residents often receive a discount.

There are probably even scholarships right in your town! By only applying for scholarships that offer a full-ride you could get a dream opportunity, but your chances of success are much lower. Local scholarships might offer less assistance but if you know people on the scholarship board then your chances could increase.

Consider stacking up several smaller scholarships instead of putting all your eggs in one basket. Financial aid can be a slow process coming from many directions, so don’t lose hope if one opportunity falls through.

Follow Up

If you get the chance to meet someone from a financial aid office or a scholarship foundation, always send a thank-you note! You want this person to know you made a real connection and were not just trying to tick all the boxes you think they wanted. Thank them for the opportunity to apply, and they will give your application a second look.

While you’re at it, send a thank-you letter to the people who wrote your letters of recommendation!

Figure Out Which Scholarship Is Right For You

Once you’re primed and ready to apply, the first step is to find a scholarship application that suits you and your needs! Luckily there are options for almost everyone out there. URM-specific scholarships are available for African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, the Queer Community, and more. You might even qualify for more than one minority scholarship!

Get Guidance from GrantEd

With all these scholarship options, expert advice always comes in handy. GrantEd is a leading organization, providing a financial calculator that not only helps determine appropriate financial needs but also which scholarships are best for you.

We understand the pressure that comes with college preparations. Partnering with us means the labyrinth of scholarships and all the stress they come with — applications, deadlines, and costs — are not faced alone. We can also help you craft amazing applications once you’ve identified the scholarships you want to apply for.

Before getting saddled with student loans, get connected and start applying for a debt-free college experience now!