Sum up your merits. Get organized and help people write letters of recommendation by creating an accomplishments resume that summarizes your background. Give each person a copy and they can then pull relevant details from it to make it seem like they know you better, Kantrowitz says.
Finding and applying for grants
"Send in the FAFSA for the Pell grant and state grants, which are used for institutional aid," says Kantrowitz.
Besides the Pell grant, other federal grants include the Academic Competitiveness grant and the the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent grant (National SMART grant).
For nonfederal student aid, submit a PROFILE application.
Scholarship databases will also include third-party grants, but even these might require applicants to qualify for the federal Pell grant. Make sure to turn in a FAFSA application after Jan. 1.
How to spot scholarship scams
"If you have to pay money to get money, it's probably a scam," says Kantrowitz, who contends you shouldn't pay to search scholarship listings or to apply for a particular award. The quality of information in free scholarship databases is better than paid databases because paid databases don't typically update their listings as often.
By searching at least two different free databases, such as FastWeb.com and CollegeBoard.com, you should find a variety of scholarships.
Beware of paying application fees. Even if the Web site asks for a nominal amount and does give out real awards, the majority of people applying are getting nothing in return for their entry fee, he says.
Also, watch out if you receive a letter directing you to pay a fee to claim the scholarship prize money you just won. "Never invest more than a postage stamp to apply for any scholarship," says Kantrowitz. Scammed individuals can send their complaints to the Federal Trade Commission.
Of course, applying doesn't necessarily mean you'll win scholarships. But your efforts won't go to waste if you don't get any awards. "Applying for scholarships can be a dry run for college admissions," Kantrowitz says. Because writing essays, filling out applications, doing interviews and marketing your merits are part of the college admissions process, fine-tuning your skills ahead of time may help you get into the schools you want.