As the benefits of attending to college continue to rise and the costs of attending college rise with it, it is now more important than ever for most families to procure some sort of financial aid in order to afford a college education. Some common ways that families try to fund a college education include taking out student loans, applying for public and private grants, and applying to merit-based and need-based scholarships.

While we at CollegeVine do not recommend spending an entire summer just applying for scholarships and financial aid, you should make it a priority to carve out some time to research and apply for scholarships that you qualify for. There are a few things you can do during the summer to prioritize college scholarships without having it take over your summer. Keep reading for the step-by-step guide.

Tip #1: Talk To the Winners

Most scholarships publicly announce their winners, and this information is usually accessible via their website, a scholarship brochure, or other handouts. Thanks to the digital age, you should be able to get in contact with a previous scholarship winner via social media, LinkedIn, email, or even through a direct contact. See if you can get in touch with some of the students who won the scholarships that you are applying to. You should then gauge whether they’d be willing to give you some advice for your scholarship application. You can even ask them to proofread and edit the application if they seem willing to help. Having someone who won the scholarship competition before telling you what you should do with your application is probably the most helpful feedback you can get.

Tip #2: Meet With the Experts

While it may not be your job to focus solely on scholarships this summer, there are people in your school and community whose job it is to help you with these things. When you have some time,  find out whether you have a financial aid advisor at your school or in your community, and if so, figure out how you can get an appointment with them. When you meet with your advisor, try to outline an action plan for applying for scholarships and other financial aid opportunities. The goal is to map out an initial list of all the financial aid opportunities you are going to apply for and to have a basic timeline of when you need to have these applications completed and submitted. This way, you can ensure that you are applying for the best scholarships and financial aid opportunities for you and be held accountable for completing all of the required application materials.

Tip # 3: Assess Your Financial Need

A large portion of scholarships and other financial aid are not awarded on the basis of merit but on the basis of financial need. This means that a scholarship committee won’t necessarily award a scholarship based on whose academic and extracurricular profile is the best but on who needs the money the most. Most need-based scholarships require you to prove that you and your family are at or below a certain income threshold, participate in certain government aid program, or meet other criteria that signify that college is a large financial burden for your family. You should sit down and have a candid conversation with your family about what your financial situation is and whether you all would qualify for certain need-based scholarships. If you find that you might qualify for at least a few need-based scholarships, start gathering information like income statements and other proof of financial need during the summer so that you won’t be scrambling for it when you finally start filling out the applications.

Tip #4: Build Your Resume

When it comes to merit-based scholarships, scholarship committees are looking for students who stand apart from the other applicants through not just their grades but also their extracurricular involvement and work experience. In other words, students with the more impressive high school resumes are more likely to win merit-based scholarships. Thus, you should be spending your summer participating in an impressive and meaningful project, internship, volunteer opportunity, or other activity that will set you apart from other students. This is a win-win because you will be increasing your chance of winning scholarships and also increasing your chances of getting admitted to college.

Tip #5: Do The Research

The more scholarships you apply to, the better off your chances will be of being awarded the amount of money that you need. In order to apply to multiple scholarships and keep track of all of your applications, you should spend some time this summer creating a comprehensive list or spreadsheet of every scholarship that you qualify for and think you might apply to. While we at CollegeVine usually suggest that you narrow down your college list, we suggest that you keep your list as long as possible when it comes to scholarships, whether you think it’s feasible to apply to every scholarship on the list or not. Forming a scholarship list is going to require quite a few hours of internet research on which scholarships are available, which ones you qualify for, and which ones you can reasonably apply to before the deadline. The summer is the best time to do this as you won’t be under any time constraints due to school, extracurriculars, and other responsibilities.