03/18/2014 10:39 am ET Updated May 18, 2014

How to Win the Scholarship Games

This is part of our monthly series 'Mission: Accepted,' in partnership with Minds Matter, which chronicles the lives of four students as they apply for college in their senior year.

As we leave March, the search for scholarships rages: Tireless Google searches, endless perusals through Fastweb and constant inquiries to college counselors. Students are getting extremely hungry for scholarships because they know that college can be an extreme burden on family finances and this search can surely help alleviate that burden.

My college counselors at Minds Matter and at school have been extremely helpful in guiding me towards a bunch of great scholarships. I have been given numerous scholarship packets that are specifically related to me and my academic accomplishments, such as having a high GPA or SAT score, being at the top of my class or impacting my community with my leadership and volunteer work. I definitely encourage all students to look locally for scholarships. I am not knocking big name scholarships such as the Gates Millennium scholarship, which provides a full-ride, but I realize those scholarships are won once in a blue moon and are difficult to come by with so much competition nationwide. Therefore, no student should only rely on big scholarships but consider small local ones as well. There are so many local corporations looking to give to the community, and I truly encourage everyone to search for these. Apart from the local scholarships I was alerted to via my school counselor, I searched online for scholarships just in my city or just in my school district. These awards have far fewer competitors and are easier to win.

Another great thing I did was creating a spreadsheet organizing all of my scholarships. Towards the beginning of this year, I noticed I was waiting until the last minute to turn in my scholarships. I realized this was a very poor habit because many scholarships usually get awarded to those that apply early. Now that there are no more college applications due and I have already submitted my FAFSA, I need to buckle down to be actively search for and acquire scholarships. Hence, a spreadsheet really allowed me to visualize and organize everything I had to do so that I could accomplish everything in a speedy manner. My spreadsheet basically consists of the name of the scholarship, the amount that would be awarded, requirements, the address all materials need to be mailed to, the deadline, and a website or contact information.

At the end of the day, keep your eyes peeled. Don't look down at small scholarships because every little bit definitely helps. Definitely start applying early and apply broadly. You will soon see the fruit of all your labor.