December 3, 2010
FREE MONEY! Now Do I Have Your Attention?
‘Tis the season for scholarship applications! Are you feeling the industrious spirit? I have talked to many students, parents, and educators about scholarships over the past few months, and it seems to me that there is a divide that exists in the way that people think about scholarships. Here’s what I have noticed: a lot of folks know that there are lots of scholarships out there, but are surprised at the complexity of the rules and the amount of work that goes into the applications. I think that we (and many others like us, encouraging access to higher education), in our efforts to put college within reach of everyone who wants to attend, emphasize the abundance of scholarship money available without an equal emphasis on the process of applying. I think this may have been interpreted along the way to mean “scholarship money is easy money.”
Please let me clear this up right now. Scholarships are free money, but you still have to do some work for them. If you want a scholarship, you will have to jump through some hoops. How many hoops, and how high they are, depend on the type of scholarship and who is offering it, and often on how much money you can get from it. So pay attention! Yes, there is an abundance of scholarship money out there that goes unclaimed because nobody bothers to apply. But if you want to cash in on the laziness of others, you’d better be prepared to do a bit of extra work.
With that said, I asked a few colleagues from Utah State University about what they want to see in an ideal scholarship candidate. Stepping boldly up to the plate are leadership in USU’s Admissions Office; here’s what Katie Jo Nielsen, Jenn Putnam, and Kate Gildea told me.
- Take the ACT at least 3 times. Colleges want to see that you can make the extra effort, and that you aren’t just trying once and expecting to get a scholarship.
- It always helps for the student to know the recruiter over their school; this is easier for high school students, but applies to everyone. Often, recruiters from different universities and colleges sit in on the needs-based, diversity or leadership scholarships that are offered. If a recruiter has worked with you and knows you, it’s a lot easier for them to justify your merits to the rest of the committee. You can meet recruiters at college fairs that are held all over the state, or by coming to the campus you are interested in and finding them there. Departmental advisors are another excellent resource for scholarship information.
- Get involved! This doesn’t mean to join every club available. As our expert Kate replied, “ I would MUCH rather look at a student that has completely thrown themselves into one thing like student government, sports, Best Buddies, etc. rather than seeing that they are in EVERY club offered where I know they aren’t really doing much with the club.”
- Don’t rely on what each institution can give you for scholarships. Search out private endowments, ask high school counselors or advisors, and apply for financial aid through the FAFSA. One our expert Katie told us, “I’m amazed more and more every year how if I don’t give them a scholarship, they can’t go to school. There are a lot of options out there for them. They can work, take loans, get outside scholarships, but it is possible they just need to put in the effort required.” It’s extremely rare for a student to be able to finance their education through a single source. Think of these five things like a puzzle that fit together to give you a whole picture of your funding: scholarships, grants, student loans, work-study programs, and savings.
- Pay attention to deadlines! Most schools have moved up deadlines and/or have priority deadlines now. Some schools have a waiting list and are not able to award all the students that applied by the late deadline. So apply early! Don’t wait until the last minute or you will probably miss out on opportunities. The priority deadlines and regular deadlines will be posted on the colleges’ financial aid websites.
- You will have the most success applying for scholarships at a school that you are a good fit for. Colleges do not want to give out free money to anyone but the people who are most likely to thrive at their institution. This means that you have to convince the scholarship committee about your desire to be at their school—amidst all of your accomplishments, be sure to explain why you think you are the perfect fit. Our expert Jenn says, “I want to know that you are committed to getting to my school with or without the scholarship, even though the scholarship would be nice.”
- Show the scholarship committee that you have a plan for success and that you’ve done your research. Says Jenn, “I love when students move right from what they’ve done in high school to what they plan to do in college. I am very impressed when they mention on-campus student groups they plan to join by name; or they’ve researched academic support services they plan to take advantage of so they can try and keep life balanced. It says a lot when you can see they have direction and they’re determined to see that vision through.” Does this mean you aren’t allowed to change majors once you are in college? Of course not. But having a vision and a plan when you walk through the doors will make you a stronger scholarship applicant.
- Have a financial backup plan. Talk about your financing plan with and without scholarship help—typically scholarships won’t even cover full tuition, so it shows you as a realistic adult when you share your plan to pay for school. You can tell the committee about other scholarships you are looking into, that you have already filed the FAFSA, that you’re working two jobs this summer. The important thing to do is to let the committee know that you’re doing whatever it takes to get your education.
So, with that in mind, go ye forth and apply! Look at websites like UtahFutures, FastWeb, and the Department of Education’s searches to get information on where to start. Check your college’s financial aid office webpage to get the current deadlines! Ask your employer, or your parents’ employers, if they offer scholarships! Talk to your credit union or bank to see if they offer financial assistance for college. The worst thing you could possibly do — is not apply.Posted by: Sumiko