Getting scholarships can significantly reduce the cost of college, but knowing when to start applying can be confusing. If you’re a high school student or parent wondering when to begin the scholarship application process, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Start researching scholarships and gathering materials your freshman year, begin applying your sophomore and junior years, and continue applying your senior year right up until college begins.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through all the steps you should take year-by-year to set yourself up for scholarship success.

Freshman Year: Lay the Groundwork

Research scholarship opportunities

Even as a freshman in high school, it’s never too early to start researching scholarship opportunities. Many scholarships have specific eligibility requirements and deadlines, so it’s important to be aware of them well in advance.

Websites like and can be great resources to explore various scholarships available to high school students. Take note of the criteria, such as GPA, extracurricular activities, and community service, that are often required for these scholarships.

Start tracking accomplishments and activities

During your freshman year, it’s a good idea to start keeping track of your accomplishments and activities. This can include academic achievements, leadership roles, community service, sports involvement, and any other notable experiences.

Maintaining a record of these accomplishments will be helpful when it comes time to fill out scholarship applications. It’s also a great way to reflect on your high school journey and see how far you’ve come.

Begin planning for standardized testing

Standardized tests like the SAT and ACT play a significant role in the scholarship application process. As a freshman, it’s important to start familiarizing yourself with these tests and planning for them. Consider taking practice exams to gauge your strengths and areas for improvement.

Additionally, research testing timelines and registration deadlines to ensure you’re well-prepared when it’s time to take these exams. Websites like and provide valuable information about these tests and offer resources to help you prepare.

By laying the groundwork during your freshman year, you’re setting yourself up for success in the scholarship application process. Researching scholarship opportunities, tracking your accomplishments, and planning for standardized testing will give you a head start in securing financial aid for college.

Remember, it’s never too early to start thinking about your future and taking steps towards achieving your goals.

Sophomore Year: Ramp Up Applications

Create a scholarship resume

During your sophomore year of high school, it’s a great time to start building your scholarship resume. This document will showcase your academic achievements, extracurricular activities, community service, and any other relevant experiences.

By creating a scholarship resume early on, you’ll have a comprehensive record of your accomplishments that will come in handy when applying for scholarships later on.

Write draft scholarship essays

Another important step in preparing for scholarship applications is to start writing draft scholarship essays. These essays often require you to share your personal story, goals, and aspirations. By starting early, you’ll have more time to refine your writing and ensure that your essays accurately reflect who you are as a student and individual.

Don’t be afraid to seek feedback from teachers, mentors, or even online resources to help improve your essay writing skills.

Take practice standardized tests

Many scholarships require standardized test scores, such as the SAT or ACT, as part of the application process. Sophomore year is a good time to begin taking practice tests to familiarize yourself with the format and content of these exams.

This will give you an idea of areas you need to improve on and allow you more time to prepare for the actual exams during your junior and senior years.

Start applying to 1-3 scholarships

While it’s not necessary to start applying to a large number of scholarships during your sophomore year, it can be beneficial to apply to 1-3 scholarships that are open to students in your grade level.

This will give you valuable experience in the application process and help you understand what scholarship committees are looking for in an applicant. Remember to read the eligibility requirements and application deadlines carefully, and put together a strong application that highlights your strengths and achievements.

For more information on scholarships and tips for applying, you can visit websites like and

Junior Year: Full Steam Ahead

Junior year is a crucial time for high school students to start preparing for scholarships. It’s never too early to start thinking about how to fund your college education, and this is the perfect time to get a head start. Here are some important steps to take during your junior year:

Retake standardized tests if needed

If you didn’t achieve the scores you were hoping for on standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT, don’t worry. Junior year is an opportune time to retake these tests and improve your scores. Many colleges and scholarship programs take these scores into consideration when awarding scholarships, so it’s worth putting in the effort to improve your results.

Update resume and polish essays

As you progress through high school, you’ll gain new experiences, skills, and accomplishments. Take the time to update your resume with these achievements. Scholarships often require a resume as part of the application process, and having an updated and polished resume will give you a competitive edge.

Additionally, start working on your scholarship essays during junior year. This will give you ample time to brainstorm ideas, receive feedback from teachers or mentors, and revise your essays to perfection. Remember, a well-written essay can make a significant impact on scholarship committees.

Apply to many local and national scholarships

Junior year is the ideal time to start searching for and applying to scholarships. There are numerous local and national scholarships available for high school students, and applying to as many as possible increases your chances of receiving financial assistance.

Websites like Fastweb and can help you find scholarships that match your interests, skills, and background.

Get teacher recommendations

In addition to your academic achievements and essays, teacher recommendations can play a vital role in scholarship applications. Take the time to nurture relationships with your teachers and ask for their support.

A strong recommendation from a teacher who knows you well can make a significant impact on scholarship committees.

Junior year is the perfect time to start applying for scholarships. By taking these steps, you’ll be well-prepared and increase your chances of receiving financial aid for college.

Senior Year: Finish Strong

Senior year in high school is a crucial time for students to prepare for their future and secure financial assistance for college. It’s important for seniors to finish strong by taking advantage of various opportunities available to them.

Here are some key steps to consider during this important year:

Apply to every scholarship possible

When it comes to scholarships, the saying “the early bird catches the worm” couldn’t be more true. It’s never too early to start applying for scholarships, and senior year is the perfect time to ramp up your efforts.

Be proactive and apply to every scholarship possible, even if the chances of winning seem slim. Remember, every dollar counts when it comes to funding your education. Look for local scholarships, national scholarships, and scholarships specific to your intended field of study.

Ask for college recommendation letters

College recommendation letters are an important part of the scholarship application process. During senior year, reach out to teachers, counselors, or other mentors who can vouch for your academic abilities, leadership skills, and personal qualities.

Ask for recommendation letters well in advance, giving your recommenders plenty of time to write a thoughtful and compelling letter on your behalf. A strong recommendation can make a significant difference in your scholarship applications.

Update essays and resume with senior accomplishments

Throughout senior year, you’ll have plenty of new accomplishments and experiences to showcase on your scholarship applications. Update your essays and resume to reflect your senior year achievements, such as leadership roles in clubs or organizations, volunteer work, or any notable academic accomplishments.

Highlighting these accomplishments will help you stand out from other applicants and increase your chances of receiving scholarship awards.

Research scholarships with deadlines near college start dates

As you approach the end of senior year, it’s important to shift your focus to scholarships with deadlines near your college start dates. Many scholarships have specific deadlines tied to the academic year, so be diligent in researching and applying for these opportunities.

Websites like and can be valuable resources for finding scholarships that align with your college plans.

By following these steps, seniors can maximize their chances of securing scholarships and easing the financial burden of college. Remember, it’s never too early or too late to start applying for scholarships, so take advantage of every opportunity available to you. Good luck!


Applying to scholarships may seem daunting, but breaking it down year-by-year makes the process much more manageable. Starting early and maintaining your efforts throughout high school will maximize your chances of earning free college money.

Use this roadmap to set yourself up for scholarship success and make college more affordable.

Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint – persistently applying to many scholarships over time will pay off. With smart preparation and diligent effort, you can reduce the cost of college for yourself or your student. Now get out there and start applying to scholarships!

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