Searching for scholarships can be a daunting task. Unfortunately, that’s just the beginning of the scholarship process.

Once you’ve identified scholarships that match your credentials, you must get your applications ready and submit them. Depending on the scholarship, the review committee may receive thousands of applications. By paying attention to the details and staying organized, you can make sure your application rises to the top of the stack.

Read and understand the criteria

The most important thing you can do to help you earn a scholarship is to read all of the information available to you about that scholarship. Make sure you understand what kind of student the donor is looking for and how you best fit that description. Think about what the donor might be trying to achieve by giving away this scholarship. Do they want to support someone with a background similar to theirs or encourage students to go into their field? Your application should show the donor why you’re the best choice for the award.

Prepare and plan ahead

Completing scholarship applications properly may require you to do some legwork—getting your up-to-date GPA from your high school guidance counselor, requesting your ACT or SAT scores, asking for letters of recommendation from teachers or other people in your life, and maybe more, depending on the scholarship. Be sure to allow plenty of time for these things. Just because you waited until the last minute to apply, doesn’t mean your biology teacher has time tonight to write you a glowing recommendation.

Ask questions (if needed)

If you have questions about a particular scholarship or uncertainty about the application process, it is perfectly acceptable to inquire about it. Most scholarship announcements will include contact information for the donor or scholarship committee. Remember, people may recall any interaction you have with them when they are reviewing applications. Be polite and make sure to read the information thoroughly before you ask questions.

Check, double-check, and check again

You want the scholarship committee to get the best possible impression of you. An accurate, complete application is the best way to do that. Whether the application is on paper or online, make sure you answer every question fully and honestly. Before you click “submit” or put your application in the mail, read over it carefully. You may even want to ask a parent or trusted friend to proofread it for you. You don’t want a silly mistake to cost you thousands of dollars! Also, be sure to attach all required documents to your application.

Your essay or personal statement can be an important piece of your scholarship application. The next part of this series will focus on making your scholarship essay achieve what you want.