One of the biggest hurdles every student has to conquer is the growing cost of college. To make my dream of earning my degree a reality, I decided to apply for as many scholarships as I could. However, the massive amount of applications was quickly overwhelming, so I decided to come up with an organizational method that would allow me to quickly and easily apply to dozens of scholarships. After a few failed attempts, I finally developed one: the scholarship binder. My scholarship binder has been so essential to my scholarship application process that I doubt I would have accomplished as much without it.
This post breaks down everything you need to know to organize your scholarship binder, along with free printables to keep track of your progress.
Scholarship Binder Supplies:
- A 1-inch binder
- Binder Dividers/Tabs
- Plastic page protectors
- Manilla folders (3-hole punched)
- FREE Scholarship Organizer Printables (click here to download)
This is the area that comes before any of the tabs, which is very important because it is where you place the Applied Scholarships Printable.
This printable allows you to easily track the scholarships you have applied to, when you applied, the announcement date, how much the scholarship is worth, and whether you won or lost. Plus, opening up the binder and seeing a list of the scholarships that you have applied to is extremely motivating. I suggest keeping this printable in a plastic page protector and pulling it out whenever you need to add something to it.
What you place behind the Applied Scholarships printable (and before the 1st tab) is up to you. I recommend doing some research on scholarships, scholarship essays, etc. and keeping the notes here. Even if you’re used to writing essays for school, some research on scholarship essays can be extremely helpful, as they can be different from academic essays (as you are more focused on showcasing your individuality and goals rather than academic research).
Researching how to write a scholarship essay also allows you to read about what the judges are looking for in an essay, the best ways to format it, and some basic ideas to get started.
My notes in my own scholarship binder also include a set of common scholarship interview questions (with my own personalized answers to them) and a list of websites to regularly check for scholarships, since knowing the different resources on where to find scholarships can help expand your search and find more scholarships to apply to.
1st Tab: Scholarship Deadlines
Submitting your scholarship application before the deadline is a necessity, but deadlines can easily be overlooked when you’re busy with school, homework, a job, or even other scholarship applications. When deadlines are overlooked and forgotten…well…there goes all that hard work you did.
To make sure this never happens, I created the scholarship deadlines printable, which keeps all of your application deadlines in one list. This printable is also great because it allows you to see what each application requires so that you can make sure you have collected all required materials (such as recommendations or transcripts) before the deadline arrives. The link also includes another version of the scholarship deadlines printable (the third printable in the download) that has an additional notes section, if you’d prefer that one instead.
2nd Tab: Scholarship Applications
The second tab is where you will place your scholarship applications; this includes both the paper applications to send in and documentation of any online scholarships.
For scholarships that need a paper copy sent in, place the application in a plastic page protector behind the second tab. (Hole-punching the application can cut out areas of the necessary information and potentially look unprofessional when sent in.)
For scholarships that need to be submitted online, copy and paste the essay prompt, deadline, web address, and other information into a document and print it. Although you will still be submitting it online, having a paper copy with the scholarship’s information allows you to see all applications in one place. It also gives you a place to do some pre-writing for the essay prompt (if applicable).
Having hard copies of both online and in-print applications in one place will keep you organized, deterring you from forgetting a deadline or competition.
Bonus Tip: Place the scholarship applications in order by their due date to provide a better sense of the timeline when each application is due.
3rd Tab: Scholarship Essays
As you are applying for scholarships, it can be helpful to refer to your previous essays to see what did and didn’t work; even more, if you can identify a pattern in your winning essays, you can use that same pattern in future essays, potentially increasing your chances of winning the scholarship.
Occasionally, you can also adapt old essays for new competitions, so having them in your scholarship binder can save you a large amount of time by editing old essays to fit the new prompt, rather than starting from scratch each time. (Just make sure that whichever scholarship you had formerly applied to allows this; some scholarship competitions claim the rights to all essays submitted.)
To keep essays organized by whether they won, lost, or were never entered, hole-punch 3 manila folders and place them in the 3rd tab, labeling them Won, Lost, and Other. After submitting each essay to its respective competition, print a hard copy and place the essay directly after the 3rd tab but before the manila folders. Once the results of the scholarship competition have been announced, you can move then move the essay into the appropriate manila folder. This organization method will make it easier to spot patterns between winning and losing essays.
The Other tab is used for essays that were never completed or submitted in time and can be recycled for use in another scholarship competition. This can happen more often then you’d think, no matter how organized and as efficient as you may be. For example, I once wrote an entire essay only to discover that there was no place to submit it on the sponsors website! Instead of throwing away this essay, I kept it for future use in the Other tab, which is a good organization practice to start, even if you don’t have any un-submitted essays yet.
4th Tab: Scholarship Portfolio
This section of the binder is a place to keep track of your student activities, number of job/volunteer hours, leadership positions, honors/awards/recognitions, etc.
With each item, write down a thorough description of what you did for each activity (or the criteria for earning the award or position), as you may forget some details a few years down the road. Along with having this list in your binder, keep a copy of it on your computer or thumb drive so you can update it as necessary.
Having this pre-created portfolio saves both time and stress as you only have to do the work once. After creating your portfolio, all you have to do is copy-and-paste the information into your future scholarship applications.
For more information, be sure to check out my post on how to create a scholarship application portfolio.
5th Tab: Additional Materials for Scholarship Applications
The 5th tab of your scholarship binder is the place to keep the additional materials that scholarship applications may ask for. It is good to have several copies of each on hand—even if you are not currently applying to a scholarship that requires them—so that a deadline does not roll around and you find yourself one-item short and unable to submit your application time.
These additional scholarship materials may include:
- Official and/or Unofficial Transcripts
- Recommendation Letters
- I recommend having several different recommendation letters in your binder, including ones from employers, professors/teachers outside of your major, and professors/teachers from within your major; I also suggest having a recommendation letter from the head of your department.
- Some scholarship sponsors will be specific as to who they want the recommendation letter to be from, so having a variety to choose from at a moment’s notice is essential.
- Copies of College Acceptance Letters (for high school seniors)
- Letters of Good Standing (for college students)
- Cover Letter
- This is another one where it’s a good idea to have the item written beforehand, even if you don’t need it yet (similar to the honors/activities portfolio.) You can then use it as a template and change out the information based on what scholarship you are applying to, yet you won’t have to write a new letter from scratch each time you need to submit a cover letter. This will save you time on your scholarship applications.
Final Thoughts on How to Organize Your Scholarship Binder
Creating and organizing your scholarship binder will collect all of your resources in one place and make the application process feel much less overwhelming. With all of your materials ready and at your disposal, it can drastically decrease the amount of time and stress you spend on each application.
For additional information on scholarships, check out these posts on How to Create a Scholarship Portfolio, How to Apply to Scholarships (the right way), Where to Find Scholarships, and What to do After You Win a Scholarship!