Applying for scholarships can be a challenging process but a worthwhile one. Getting an early start might help you ensure that you don't miss any opportunities. Federal Student Aid, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, recommends that you should get started with the application process during the summer before your senior year of high school, though you can do some preparation even sooner.

Junior Year and Prior

The scholarship search itself can be a time-consuming process. Even before senior year, you should be watching for potential opportunities. As early as sophomore year, you can begin checking for scholarship opportunities with your parents’ employers and your own high school, as well as local community groups, religious organizations and local businesses.

Summer Between Junior and Senior Years

The summer before senior year, you should start compiling a list of potential scholarships and make note of the application deadlines. Deadlines for scholarships vary widely. Some may be due as early as a year before college starts. Some private-institution scholarships are due in the fall of your senior year, while others are not due until spring. Scholarships offered by colleges and universities tend to be due in December or January. A good tip on deciding how soon to get started is to work backward from the application due date, figuring out how much time you will need to complete each aspect of the application.

Fall of Senior Year

Pulling the information together for your application may take more time than you think, so starting in the fall will keep you ahead of the game. Some scholarship applications are complicated, and filling them out is a lengthy process. Be sure to leave enough time to gather your high school transcripts, standardized-test scores, parents' financial information and proof of eligibility. If letters of recommendation are required, be sure to allow enough time for those to be written. Most scholarship applications will require at least one essay. A well-thought-out essay may take some time to complete.

Senior Year

By the middle of senior year (if not sooner), you will need to begin submitting applications. Allow plenty of time for review and revisions of your essay and to double-check that you have all the required pieces. And, finally, leave enough time to organize all the pieces, package them together and send the package off to the institution.

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