Nathan Marquez, right, and Robert De Mata, students at Rangeview High School, watch as their index-card tower is measured by Stephanie Rivale, with the University of Colorado engineering school’s BOLD Center during a contest to win scholarships should they attend CU. Photo by Marty Caivano/March 16, 2011

University of Colorado freshman Bethany Bernard did not have to touch the funds her mom put aside for her schooling this semester, thanks to free money. The five scholarships she was awarded covered almost half of her fall bursar bill .

“I got a little grant money, but it was mostly thanks to scholarships that I didn’t have to pay much out of pocket,” Bernard said.

Susan Youtz, associate director for CU’s Office of Financial Aid, said only about 10 to 15 percent of students are receiving scholarships — a number she said could be higher if students followed a few simple tips:

Scholarships have deadlines, and turning an application in late could eliminate students from the running before they’ve even been considered, Youtz said. Due dates vary, so students should start looking for opportunities early and have an organized system to help them stay on track to meet the deadlines.

“The key is being organized,” Youtz said. “Put reminders in your calendars, keep files of each submission to help you keep track of what is due when.”

Buy a lottery ticket
The more applications students submit, the better chance they have to receive awards, Youtz said.

“You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket,” she said.

Bernard said she applied for about 20 scholarships for the fall semester. After receiving five, she said she will continue to submit multiple applications.

“It was definitely worth taking the time to fill them all out,” Bernard said. “Everything counts.”

Avoid mass production

Youtz said it is tempting for students to complete one application, write one essay and get one reference letter and recycle them. But tailoring an application can give students an advantage.

“Having maybe five to six templates would be better than one,” she said. “Write an essay about what you’re passionate about, another about an event or person that impacted your life and another about why you’re deserving of the scholarships.”

Bernard said she filled out an extensive application first — the one that required the most time and effort — and utilized it to pad other applications that she tailored for individual requirements.

Tweak your time
While focus and requirements vary for each scholarship, zeroing in on a few basics could help students increase their eligibility, Youtz said.

“Not all scholarships require a minimum GPA, but many will take it into consideration,” she said. “Volunteer hours and extracurricular activities are also important to many donors.”

Spending a few hours every week on improving grades or increasing volunteer and extracurricular activities could give students a leg up, Youtz said.

Don’t get discouraged
CU junior Lane Mitchell said after her freshmen year she applied for fewer scholarships, and it’s no surprise that she’s receiving fewer awards now.

“I got a little money — for books, mainly — but now I’m not getting anything from scholarships,” Mitchell said.

Lucky for Mitchell, her family is helping her pay for college. But not every student can afford to get discouraged.

Youtz said maintaining motivation is important: despite rejections, keep applying for scholarships.

“Do your best to get them,” Youtz said. “But remember, rejections can be based on luck or even random decisions.”

“Keep trying.”

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