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  • Jean O'Toole

How to Get and STAY Motivated in the Scholarship Pursuit

“A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” – Jim Watkins.

Starting is easy. It’s continuing the pursuit that can become difficult. Over the years I have given hundreds of presentations about pursuing scholarships. After outlining to audiences why they should pursue scholarships, and how to pursue scholarships, they most often begin with enormous excitement and enthusiasm. The key, however to their success is what happens long after the presentation is completed.

The secret of a successful scholarship pursuit is not in starting but in continuing. The scholarship pursuit is a long game. Playing the long game takes commitment and persistence. Many parents reach out to my research team and I with the question, “How do I motivate my kid to actually do this?” The answer is in how you approach the game. Pursuing private scholarships is a marathon and not a sprint. After applying to a scholarship, results are not generally known for at least 6 weeks. Some scholarship award recipients may not be announced for several months. When we do not have an immediate reward, we question why we should continue with an action. Unfortunately, this is a major reason why so many people quit a process.

What if the perspective was changed?

What if the scholarship pursuit was shifted to a long game, immediately when a student starts? A marathon runner knows that they will be running a marathon. They commit to the many miles they will be running. They do not stop after the first mile.

What if the scholarship pursuit was started with a long view perspective? Applying weekly to 2 scholarships a week by blocking time and creating a routine that can be repeated throughout the year yields over 100 scholarships applied to over the course of a year. Small amounts of energy and time committed for the long-term pursuit. Continuing with the pursuit can yield over 500 scholarships applied to over the course of time between senior year in high school and the completion of a 4-year degree.

Would that increase the probability of scholarship success? Absolutely. There are no guarantees in a scholarship pursuit, but increasing probability is possible on many levels.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that every student must apply to 2 scholarships every week. I am however encouraging every student and every parent to look at the long view. Ask yourself: What could be accomplished if I think of the pursuit as a marathon over months, semester, years or even multiple degrees? What possibility could be opened?

Other strategies to increase long term engagement and motivation in the process include:

1. Inquire from the guidance department from your local high school, what percentage of the previous year’s senior class applied for local scholarship opportunities. On average only 10-20% of senior classes will actually apply. Learning that data helps to motivate scholarship seekers to stay engaged.

2. Look for pervious year data of applications and awards submitted from scholarship committees. Not all scholarships will post this information, but those that do are clear recent windows into the low percentage of students throughout the United States who are engaged in the process.

3. Reach out to scholarship committees and inquire how many applications they received in the past several years for their awards.

Choice is the most powerful thing we own. Choose the perspective that will work with your goal to keep you engaged, motivated and committed for the long run.

Ultimately to win, you must start and stay in the game.


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


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