You might have read my last post and thought, “Great. That’s all well and good for high school seniors with great GPAs, but I don’t see how that stuff applies to me, because I….” I completely understand that looking for scholarships while already in school or considering graduate education can be daunting, so I’ve put together a few thoughts that I hope will help those in less traditional circumstances.
1. Talk to your financial aid advisor
If you haven’t taken this step already, this is where you should start. If your advisor is anything like me, he or she probably gets emails nearly every week with scholarship opportunities being promoted for students. Not all of these get onto the website because, let’s face it, many schools are understaffed in financial aid and some things slip through the cracks. However, if they’re organized, they very well might have a folder in their inbox just for keeping track of these emails. I know I have dug into my Scholarships folder for the proactive students that have come asking about opportunities. While pushy and entitled students will rarely have good results in a financial aid office, I’ve even been known to make time to look for scholarships on my own initiative for persistent and polite students.
2. Look at your state’s Department of Education website
In Oregon, we have OSAC, Oregon Office of Student Access and Completion, which offers and hosts dozens, if not hundreds, of scholarships for in-state students totaling more than $18 million, that can all be applied to with one application. Some scholarships are designated by region – i.e. graduates from Klamath County; some by grade level – graduating seniors or college sophomores, etc.; some by discipline – health sciences, for example; gender; and more. Check out your state’s Department of Education website to see if they have a program to help students pay for college.
3. Check out internal scholarship opportunities
I tell students every year to be sure to get their applications in by the priority deadline so that they can apply for our Foundation scholarships. You can’t beat having one application for over 100 scholarships that auto-matches you with the ones you may qualify for. Not to mention that some of those scholarships are specifically for non-traditional students or students who are in their second or third year in school. I also encourage students to apply to some of our less competitive scholarships – sometimes we have less applicants than funds allocated, meaning there is free money to be had that no one is even trying for. The only way to know these things, of course, is to ask someone who might know. Did I mention you should talk to your financial aid advisor?
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
In addition to working as a financial aid counselor, I also volunteer with my university’s foundation as a reader for our bi-annual scholarship competition. Lest you think this might be a conflict of interests, the applications are all anonymized and typically I’m given a packet of student applicants from the main campus (most of whom I have never met); not to mention we have the added safeguard of being able to return any application to the main pool if we think we might know the student.
Nonetheless, my number one takeaway from that role is that students need to ask for help when they are applying for scholarships. In this particular application, students are asked to submit two essays and an activity chart that details nearly everything they spend time on outside of school and sleep. These are the main assessed portions that contribute to the overall applicant’s score. I can’t tell you on how many applications I’ve commented, “I recommend that in the future you have someone else read your essay and provide feedback” because of poor grammar, poor organization, or poor flow in the essays. If I can’t understand what you’re saying, I can’t score you well. If you can’t use appropriate punctuation and capitalization, your chances of scoring funds to help with tuition are fading fast. Don’t be afraid to ask someone (who will be brutally honest) if he or she will read over your essay and/or application. It just might make all the difference.
Not all universities have someone specific to help students with their scholarship applications, but at our school both the scholarship coordinator and I offer to help students by reviewing their essays or activity charts and supplying feedback to help them make a stronger application. However, even after being in the position for 12 months and making those kind of offers for six months, I have yet to have even one student take me up on it. Even if your financial aid office doesn’t offer this kind of help, or you’ve asked and they said “no,” don’t hesitate to take your application to the university writing center, an English professor you’ve had, or just a friend who will tell you the whole truth about your writing. As I mentioned in the last article, persistence is key to succeeding in this quest.
So there are a few more thoughts on using scholarships to help pay for school. Have a scholarship you won that you think others might benefit from? Feel free to post it in the comments below!