Given the decentralized nature of listings for university-funding opportunities, most of the scholarship searches that you conduct will happen on the internet. Rather than depend on automated databases or mobile apps to conduct these searches for you, I strongly suggest that you take a proactive approach by designing and conducting your own experimental searches online.
But, if you plan to conduct your own searches, you want to make sure that you have a clear strategy. Otherwise, it is likely that you will end up exploring the internet aimlessly and burn out in the process.
It’s time to get organized
Here are five steps that will help you build strategic scholarships searches into your regular routines.
Step #1: Develop an individualized research strategy and write it down
The most important part of starting the search process is to create a personalized research strategy. Using the categories that I outline in this post about developing individualized searches, brainstorm a robust list of research terms that you will use to navigate the internet and your specific university campus for related resources.
These terms should be based on your personal characteristics, degree objectives, long-term goals, communities, potential career trajectories, interests, hobbies, meaningful geographic locations, and project-based goals.
Make sure that you store this list in a spreadsheet or a word document so that you can keep track of your strategies, work through each term systematically, and recalibrate based on the success of your searches.
Step #2: Conduct regular searches
Once you have generated a list of at least 25 different search terms, build regular online searches into your weekly routine. I suggest spending at least one hour per week conducting strategic online searches by using one or two search terms at a time.
Ideally, you will use each term to explore various available resources at your university and on non-university websites, compiled lists, and smaller organizations listed across the internet.
When working through your university’s websites, you should be asking questions that allow you to navigate the institutional structures of the campus itself. Most universities are pretty decentralized, so the various funding opportunities on the campus are not likely to reside in the same places.
Some of the following questions might help you get started:
- Which departments, centers, institutes, and student affairs offices care about the communities, research goals, and broad social impacts that you care about?
- Do any organizations within your campus offer funding to support specific degree-based goals, like language study, fieldwork, summer research projects, dissertation writing, or research-based teaching or pedagogy?
- Are there any research communities on the campus that might have an interest in some of your more personal or community-based goals?
I suggest that you spend one hour using each of your individualized terms for university-based searches.
Then, spend an additional hour using that same search term to explore opportunities that are available outside of the university.
To begin your search outside of the university, start with some simple Google searches so that you get a sense of how the internet organizes around certain language related to your term for the day.
I would also suggest converting each of your search terms into a strategy that will allow you to identify non-university institutions that have formed around this concept, idea, or community. There are national associations, societies, foundations, and collegiums for just about every academic field, and these organizations frequently exist outside of the university system. Similarly, there are NGOs, community organizations, and local institutions that have formed around specific interests.
If you treat these extramural searches as an opportunity to learn more about institutional structures that may hold resources, you will be better off than just seeking out one opportunity at a time.
Step #3: Store search results in an organized way
Generally, it takes extra time to locate an application that lists exact eligibility requirements, or clear mission statements associated with each opportunity. Many of my students get stuck in their initial searches because they find one good link, spend a lot of time trying to analyze the one scholarship attached to it, and basically interrupt the actual research process by doing so. By splitting the search and analysis processes into two different sessions, you can keep momentum while searching online, and use your time to store and organize the links, lists of scholarships, and individual opportunities that you find in a spreadsheet.
Your goal here should be to gather and store as many links related to your single search term as possible.
During this part of the search, do not try to decide if each opportunity you find is perfect for you. It is easy to lose time trying to locate and assess relevant eligibility requirements, deadlines, and actual application platforms or documents. But if you lose 20 minutes to tracking a single opportunity, then you will likely forget how you found it, and have to start your search all over again. Save the more intense analysis of each opportunity for the next phase!
In this initial phase of the search, your primary goal should be to collect, store, and organize as many URLs related to your search term as possible. While you are conducting your searches, keep track of everything that you find, regardless of whether or not each item is a perfect fit.
Don’t store what you find by “bookmarking” links on your browser, this is the surest way to forget about what you’ve found. Rather, you should have a spreadsheet or document where you are copy-pasting each and every link, and storing the titles of the scholarships, foundations, or types of resources that are attached to these links.
Once you’ve stored the results of your findings, assign future tasks to each item, like “go through this list,” “add to master list,” or “try different search term.”
Make sure to take note of how you found each one, which search term were you focusing on that day? Did you notice any surprising trends? Or discover a better word for conducting related searches?
Step #4: Analyze the search results
In a completely separate working session, choose a number of collected URLs to analyze. Ideally, you can analyze a chunk of opportunities that are related to the same search term, that way you will be able to recognize patterns in the way that certain organizations, donors, and individuals handle nuanced aspects or eligibility requirements related to specific scholarship types.
This should be incredibly focused work. You want to analyze each opportunity to find out if you are actually eligible, assess what aspect or year of your degree this scholarship will support, and get a sense of the annual cycle of deadlines and application processes.
For each individual opportunity, it could take 5-30 minutes to track down the important information. Details about eligibility, location of the actual application, and application processes are not often easily accessible on the same page where you find out about the opportunity. You’ll have to drill down to the true source of the scholarship fund itself, and analyze what you see carefully.
If the information does not seem up-to-date or appears to be unclear, pick up the phone and call the organization that is offering the scholarship. I suggest this over emailing, although that is an option too, because you can often get answers quickly over the phone.
By the time that you are done considering each of the items on your list, you should be able to do one of two things for each item assessed:
- Cross it off of your list entirely; or,
- Move it onto your Master List of Active Application Opportunities. Only move items to your Master List when you are 100% certain that you are eligible to apply, and that you plan to apply at some point in the near future.
Ideally, if you’ve done a good search and conducted comprehensive analysis related to a single search term or search strategy, you do not have to conduct searches related to this term again.
Your search results list should be constantly growing and shrinking as you collect and analyze focused results. If you notice that your search results list continues to grow, and you feel overwhelmed by the number of entries, then it’s time for you to stop searching and do some careful analysis. Otherwise, you are just creating a smaller version of the Internet for yourself to sort through, and the burden of that list will grow unwieldy.
Step #5: Move certain opportunities to a Master List
Once an opportunity is on your Master List, you should be able to clearly identify the following application elements:
- Final deadline (I suggest organizing this list by deadlines in an annual cycle)
- Title of opportunity
- Mission statement of related foundation or organization
- Link to the application itself
- All essay prompts and respective word limits
- Required number of letters of recommendation
- Distinction between unofficial and official transcripts
- Any other required application elements
Your Master List of Active Application Opportunities should clearly map out all of the labor that it will take to complete each application. You might even consider moving this information into your calendar system, so that you can balance your application efforts with your schoolwork.
Why these steps are so important
Ideally, you can use these four steps to develop a systematic strategy that allows you to explore the internet in a way that does not feel endless or overwhelming. You want to feel like you’re crossing small tasks off of your list during every search session, so that you can stand up after an hour of searching and feel like you’ve accomplished something.
Okay, now that you have a plan in place – it’s time to get started!
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