top of page
  • Jean O'Toole

3 Important Questions to Ask When Starting a Scholarship Search

The approach to scholarship searching for most students follows the path of:

1. Search extensively online for hours for scholarships that align with future professional goals.

2. Apply for a few scholarships and hope to be chosen as the recipient.

3. Stop pursuing scholarships because it feels like a waste of time and energy.

Sound familiar?

Hoping to find scholarships and hoping to win scholarships is certainly not a strategic approach to the scholarship process. There are smart ways to use your limited amount of available time and energy to pursue private scholarships from companies, organizations, individuals and foundations starting with asking three important questions:

1. “Who has already accomplished what I am trying to do?”

2. “Why should someone choose me as the recipient?”

3. “What won in the past?”

Who has already accomplished what I am trying to do?

Identify who has completed the research already. Which individuals have accomplished in the past, what you are about to do? As most scholarships are offered annually, save time looking for scholarships by connecting with students, who spent the time to search for scholarships in the past. For example, alumni from your high school or university, who received scholarships while they were current students, would be an excellent resource of information. They also have no reason to not share the information with you as they are no longer competing for the scholarship. Also, many scholarship committees will post the name of the recipients who won in the past. Reach out to former scholarship winners using social media and ask for other scholarships they can recommend you applying to. By leaning on the time and energy spent by others in the past, you can spend more time expediting out completed applications.

Why should someone choose me as the recipient?

Private scholarships from companies and organizations are often looking to honor and award students who are seeking to impact the world around them in the future through their future career or service. Every individual has the potential to impact others. Think about how you plan on impacting your life, someone else’s life or the world, when you are finished with furthering your education. Share that vision with the decision makers of the scholarship committee. The scholarship committee members want to be assured that their own efforts, in organizing the scholarship and awarding the scholarship, was time well spent. Include a 2-3 sentence statement, that I call a Why You Statement in every application that you expedite, which speaks to the future impact you plan to have on others and in the world.

What won in the past?

If a scholarship application is requiring an essay, poem or project as part of the required materials, always seek to review the previous year’s recipient’s essay, poem or project. Many scholarship committees will publish the essay, project or poem of the applicant they select as the award recipient. Review what won in the past to inform how you will approach the essay, project or poem. This is an excellent strategy to learn more about the scholarship committee and the scholarship they are offering.

By asking these simple questions, you can save an enormous amount of time searching for scholarships and inform yourself to submit the best possible application for consideration to a scholarship committee.


Jean O’Toole is an educational consultant and author of the bestselling book, Scholarship Strategies Finding and Winning the Money You Need. Over the past 15 years, she has helped tens of thousands of students in the United States. Individuals collectively have been awarded millions of dollars by applying her scholarship strategies. In 2008 she co-founded Connections101, a company specializing in providing motivational tools for scholarship searching. It is her goal to empower students to design their paths to their future without college debt. For more information about Jean, visit


bottom of page