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7 Tips for Scholarship Season

October 28, 2019

In 2014, $2.9 billion in federal financial aid went unclaimed due to about three million eligible students failing to complete their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), according to a study by NerdWallet.  To put that number in perspective, that's enough to pay full tuition for every full-time ISU student for 45 years! According to Edvisors, one third of those three million students would have qualified for the full benefit amount. While federal grants are based on financial need, scholarships are not as easy to calculate, though many sources say that relatively little scholarship money is left on the table each year. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that state, local, and national scholarships are not just based on the numbers of financial need; they can be based on indicators such as academic achievement, financial need, leadership experience, community involvement, organizational affiliation or even family heritage. Because these applications are based on much more subjective information, it is important to make the necessary preparations to submit a strong application. The following strategies come from the friendly ISU Scholarship Office to help you present yourself in the best possible way on your scholarship applications. We will also cover how to apply for scholarships using the Bengal Online Scholarship System (BOSS) as well as some College of Business scholarships to look out for. With College of Business Spring 2020 scholarships opening up on November 1, now is a great time to start thinking about how you can gear up for scholarship season.

#1: Become recommendable

Many scholarships require a letter of recommendation, which can be daunting at first. I know when I first see the requirements for a letter of recommendation, I think twice about applying at all, knowing that it’s going to be some work to get a good letter. Well, if this is what you’re thinking too, think again. Preparing for and securing an excellent Letter of Recommendation can be a clear way to differentiate yourself from the competition. 

The first step in the process is to become recommendable. This happens long before you need a letter from someone. If you know a year or two in advance that you will need a letter of recommendation from a department chairperson or a program director, then start now to develop a relationship with that person. Of course, be genuine, and find activities where you can be around them, whether by spending time in their office hours, volunteering on a school project, or by taking a few of their classes. Develop a strategy for putting yourself in a position to be recommendable. It might sound strange, but it works. I followed this tactic during my undergraduate years when I knew that I would need two recommendations from professors for my graduate school application, so I picked two professors that I wanted to get to know better and went to work. I took more classes from them, I came to each class prepared, I participated with insightful comments, I visited them during office hours, and I volunteered on research projects that they led. When the time came to ask for letters of recommendation, they knew my strengths and abilities and were able to write very unique and convincing recommendations for me. 

When the time comes to fill out your application in the BOSS system (which we will get to below), your recommender will only have seven days to submit their letter of recommendation to your application once you click “submit.” Unfortunately, that is a fraction of the lead time I would recommend giving your writers. The rule of thumb that I have always used has been to give your recommender two months of notice. That way, they will not feel the negative pressure while they are trying to give you a positive review. The bottom line here is to ask for a letter of recommendation before you need it! It is common practice to ask recommenders to tweak the contents of their letter based on the recipient, so don’t feel bad for asking them to revise once the original has been written. Trust me- it is much easier to change the addressee than it is to write an entire letter in a seven-day window. 


#2: Perfect your essay


Most scholarship applications require some form of written response to qualifying questions, such as “what are your academic achievements?” or “what do you plan to accomplish with your degree?” Most applications require similar questions about your academic achievements, community service, and future goals. This is your only opportunity to express beyond the fill-in-the-blanks of your application why you are best qualified for this specific scholarship, how this scholarship will impact your education, and what you plan to do with the education that the scholarship enables you to receive. Scholarship boards are all about their social return on investment, so they want to know exactly where their generous donations are going and how those funds are going to make a positive return in the lives of both the recipient and those who are touched by the recipient.

Similar to the previous advice on preparing your letters of recommendation before you need them, the same principle applies here: spend time writing and perfecting a powerful and persuasive essay while you have the time to perfect it. Have it read by many people, have it critiqued and pruned, then customize it for each application when the time comes to submit your application. This will save you from rewriting your essay every time and will save you the pressure of having to write an essay on the fly because the application due date is fast approaching. Have your writing reviewed to make sure that it is coherent and persuasive, including by the ISU Writing Center if necessary. Besides the writing center, there are plenty of resources to help you write a great scholarship essay, such as the ISU Career Center and the Scholarship Office, so have it read by many people and make it perfect! 

#3: Start early

With the exception of spring scholarships coming up in November, the core scholarship season lasts primarily from the beginning of February to the end of March, giving you only a few months to put your applications together for the coming school year. While there are scholarships that are open outside this time, this is when most applications are open. For that reason, start now with your scholarship search. See more information on tip #7: searching and applying for scholarships on BOSS. Make a priority list of the scholarships you find that you are eligible for, note their due dates, and get to work! #4: Spend an hour a week on BOSS


Think of your scholarship search as a temporary part-time job; if you are successful, the payoff could be just as good or even better. Of course, you won’t be awarded every scholarship that you apply for, but your chances of receiving a scholarship that you did not apply for are zero. Raise the odds by applying for more scholarships for which you are eligible. 

Although many scholarships close in March or April, there are some that don’t- so make sure you don’t miss them. Aside from due dates, the ISU scholarship office regularly updates and adds new scholarships to BOSS, so they recommend spending an hour each week searching for and looking at the newly posted scholarships. 

#5: Don't limit your search

While it will be helpful to search for keywords related to your college and major, there are many scholarships available for all different purposes, such as minority groups, where you went to high school, where your parents work, or community organizations that family members belong to. Think creatively about what you might qualify for, and spend adequate time going through the lists on BOSS so you know what is out there. 

#6: Visit the ISU scholarship office for help

Call or visit the ISU scholarship office with questions. They are located in the Museum Building, room 327, and are open Monday-Friday from 8am to 5pm.

#7: Use BOSS to search and apply for scholarships 


The Bengal Online Scholarship System (BOSS) is the one-stop shop for all your scholarship needs. It includes recommended scholarships that you will likely be eligible for, a comprehensive list of all scholarships offered through ISU, and a good list of external scholarships that are offered through local, state, and national organizations. It should be the main source for your scholarship search. 

Login with your student ID and password to the Bengal Online Scholarships System (BOSS) at or just google “ISU BOSS.” If you do not yet have a student ID number, you can check out to see a listing of the available scholarships without signing in, but you won’t be able to apply to any until you have your student login information. Once signed in, you will submit your general application which is completed by answering a few simple questions. Based on your responses, other application sections may come up depending on your eligibility, such as the leadership application which will automatically consider you for the leadership-related scholarships. These additional applications usually require an essay of some sort, so spend some time crafting an excellent response. Once you are ready to start searching for scholarships, you will find three categories of scholarships under the “Opportunities” tab. The first one to look at is “recommended.”


These are scholarships that automatically populate based on your application to ISU, including your demographic information, where you went to high school, etc. For example, one scholarship that comes up on my "recommended" tab is for a scholarship that is awarded to college students who graduated from the high school I attended. This scholarship was recommended to me based on the high school I listed in my application, but sadly I do not qualify for this particular scholarship. Not all of the scholarships in this tab will apply to you, but it is a great place to start your search. 


Next, the “Ours” tab includes all of the scholarships that are offered by or are available through ISU. Every scholarship that you apply for in this section will be submitted through BOSS. As you look through these, take notice of the deadlines that are posted on the right hand side. Any scholarship that is past due will still be listed but cannot be applied for. This doesn't mean that you should ignore all the expired scholarships; remember that some of these may be available in the coming year and have not yet opened for application. The staff in the ISU scholarship office are always adding and updating scholarship information, so make a mental note if there is one that you would like to apply for but is not yet posted for the coming year. 

To help your search, try out the “filter” button and see if you meet any of the listed criteria. There are scholarships for more things than you can think of, such as a particular scholarship that is awarded to residents of Colorado who had a parent attend ISU. Spend some time on the filter list and take note of anything that catches your eye. It's a good idea to go through the list at least once even though it is long. 

Also try out the "search" function to find scholarships related to your major. For example, by searching for the keyword "business," I found 61 listed scholarships, 4 of which are currently active. Take particular note of the Combined College of Business scholarship, which is a combined application for about 10 scholarships specific to the College of Business that are all applied for using the same application. 


The external scholarships are sponsored by state, local, or national organizations. These are not hosted by ISU but the scholarship office posts them as a service for students to make the scholarship search a little bit easier. When I searched for the keyword “business” in this section, I found 33 scholarships, 3 of which are active and many of which will be reposted for the coming academic year. This list provides a great start and should help spark your creativity for searching: are there any organizations you belong to that provide scholarships? Do your parents or grandparents belong to any organization that might award scholarships to posterity? These are good places to look for scholarship opportunities. 


As you can see from the top of the “Ours” section of BOSS, most scholarships have several requirements. While each scholarship will have slightly different requirements, take time to prepare for these baseline standards: 

  1. Almost all scholarships require you to be a full-time student at the time that you plan to use the scholarship, so make sure that you are planning to take at least 12 credits if you are an undergraduate or 9 credits if you are a graduate student. 
  2. All need-based scholarships require you to have completed the FAFSA before you are eligible to receive scholarship money.  The FAFSA application is due March 1, 2020 for priority consideration for the 2020-2021 school year but you can apply any time between October 1st, 2019 to June 30th, 2020 for the 2019-2020 school year. Visit to apply! 
  3. GPA requirements will vary based on the scholarship that you are applying for, but most require a 2.0 GPA for undergraduates or a 3.0 GPA for graduates.
  4. Some scholarships require a letter of recommendation. 
  5. Some scholarships require an essay. 

ISU Scholarship Website

Another source for your scholarship search is the ISU Scholarship website. It contains a host of information about the scholarship process including a list of program and major-specific scholarships. There are 42 scholarships currently listed for either Accounting, Business, CIS, Health Informatics, Management, Marketing, and MBA students ( The ISU scholarship page also contains links to national scholarship search databases ( While these are helpful, I recommend searching the posted scholarships in BOSS first, as you will need to do much less sifting to find scholarships that are relevant.  Reminder that November 1 is the Spring deadline for automatic scholarships.  The CoB will open Spring scholarship application on 11/1/19 and close them on 12/1/19.


Check out these scholarships!

  1. ISU scholarships for business students:
  2. “Combined College of Business” scholarship on BOSS
  3. ASISU scholarship- offered every semester
  4. BBB Students of Integrity scholarship on BOSS