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Financial Aid 101

Finding Additional Scholarships

University of Denver Financial Aid

Want some additional free money that can supplement your financial aid offer? Apply for private scholarships! It does take some legwork, but it's worth it.

There are a lot of scholarship opportunities available through various entities not affiliated with DU or the federal government. These come from a variety of sources, including community foundations, civic organizations, high schools, family foundations, ethnic and religious organizations, and businesses. Generally, these opportunities are called "private scholarships." We encourage you to start searching and applying for these scholarships now, as many have November and December deadlines.

Where to Look
A good place to start is through one of the many online scholarship search engines out there. Here is a list of the most common websites:

Search Tips
Searching for private scholarships can be time-intensive. Make it easier by having a system to find and apply for these opportunities!

  • Actively investigate as many scholarship opportunities as possible.
  • Read all application materials thoroughly.
  • Don't be discouraged by scholarships with small dollar amounts—every dollar counts!
  • Consider opening an email account specifically for scholarships using a professional name. Avoid names that are cutesy or inappropriate, and check the account frequently so you don't miss any important messages.
  • Start a spreadsheet to track deadlines and application requirements.
  • Make sure your resume is updated.
  • Write essays tailored specifically to the scholarship you are applying for.
  • Submit your applications on time!

Application Tips

Keep your information updated. If you have a LinkedIn profile or a resume, make sure it's up-to-date. While donors are interested in your past accomplishments, they also want to see what you're currently doing to further your education and grow professionally. So, make sure your current employment, volunteer, and academic activities are listed. Get more tips on writing and updating your resume from the DU Career Center.

Be concise. Avoid trying to list everything you've ever done. Instead, highlight the activities you would like the donor to remember about you. If you participate in a unique program or activity, briefly describe it, but try to avoid long paragraphs as much as you can. And do not list the same activity in multiple sections of the application.

Quantify your activities, memberships, work experience, and volunteer efforts. Use specific hours, months, days, or years to demonstrate your commitment to a cause or responsibility.

Show initiative. Donors are investing in a student's future, and like to reward those who show initiative. If you have started your own business, created a club, developed new ways to approach issues, or organized an event, highlight it!

Proofread! Have a friend or family member look over your application for spelling and grammatical errors.

Essay Tips

  • Tailor your essay to each application
  • Address the specific question or topic
  • Be creative, organized, and succinct
  • Be personal and passionate
  • Get feedback from a trusted mentor
  • Adhere to the word limit
  • Proofread!


  • Use slang, jargon or clichés
  • Write too little or too much
  • Write a "sob story"— demonstrate how you have succeeded despite challenges
  • Use redundant sentences and phrases
  • Compare yourself to another student
  • Submit the same essay for multiple applications

Tips for Recommendation Letters
Many private scholarships ask for a recommendation letter as part of the application. The best letters come from someone (not a parent) who can speak not just to your accomplishments but can applaud your character, work ethic, and professionalism to showcase your intangible, positive character traits.

To get a great recommendation letter:

  • Don't ask for a letter unless you believe the person will say positive things about you.
  • Provide the recommender with a description of the scholarship and a list of skills or qualities that are important to highlight.
  • Give the writer a current copy of your resume, if you have one.
  • Allow sufficient time—give your reference at least two weeks' notice.
  • When applicable, help ensure the recommendation is delivered by providing email addresses, fax numbers, or a stamped addressed envelope.
  • Keep your reference updated on the status of your application and send a thank you note!

Thank Your Donor
If you receive a scholarship, say thank you! Scholarship donors love to know who they are helping. Sending a thoughtful note that describes your goals and how the gift will help you will go a long way toward affirming the value and significance of their generosity. And if you're invited to an event to honor the scholarship donors and recipients, be sure to attend!

Beware of Scams!
You should never have to pay money upfront to receive a private scholarship. Avoid any scholarship that asks for application, search, or processing fees. Applying for legitimate scholarships and financial aid is free. If you don't remember filling out an application for a scholarship, be cautious and research the organization that claims to be offering it. A quick web search can reveal a lot. If you are unsure about a particular scholarship, feel free to contact us!

That's it for this week! Want to review past Financial Aid 101 emails? Check out the archives.

Up next week: Student Employment Opportunities


We're here to help you.

Send us an email at
or call us at (303) 871-4020

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