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Financial Aid

Guide to Applying

Guide to Applying

There are many different types of financial aid out there, but among the most popular, and understandably so, are scholarships. In deciding that you’re going to apply for scholarships, you are committing yourself to a time-consuming but beneficial process. Aside from the obvious financial payoff, applying for scholarships allows you to discover a little bit more about yourself and just why you’re so unique.

What do selection committees look for?

Most scholarship selection committees look to reward well-rounded, active, and accomplished students, particularly in the following areas:

  •  Academics. Almost all scholarships have an academic component. Since scholarship funds are usually intended to help students attend an institute of higher learning, donors want to ensure that you’re dedicated to academic studies. Things they consider might include GPA (both cumulative and within your major), breadth of classes taken, involvement in your department, research & publishing activities, and awards & honors.
  •  Leadership. This criterion is broadly defined and can include anything from being a student government officer to writing for the student newspaper. Committees are looking for motivation, independence, and the ability to complete projects & lead your fellow students. Breadth also counts here, particularly in the ability to work effectively with different groups of people including students, faculty, and administrators.
  •  Work experience. Many committees want to see how you apply your skills in the day-to-day work world. You certainly don’t have to be the manager of your local bank to qualify; instead, committees look to see how you’re preparing yourself for the future, whether you’re interning at a nonprofit or bagging groceries at your local market. In addition, this requirement can be absolutely pivotal for field- or career-specific scholarships for which you might apply during your junior and senior years.
  •  Service. In addition to paid work, it’s important to volunteer in your community. Both public and community service are important to show that you’re committed to civic involvement. This can be as simple as volunteering for a few hours a week at a retirement center. Because many civic organizations give scholarships, it’s great to show that you’re committed to similar ideals.
  •  Physical Fitness. Some scholarship committees demand well-rounded applicants, and this often includes fitness of body, as well as mind. You don’t have to be a star varsity athlete to fulfill this requirement. You can show that you take care of your body simply by running regularly, biking to work, or joining an intramural basketball team.

Most scholarship committees are not looking for all of these requirements. Many are only looking for one or two, and by far the most common requirements are Academics, Leadership, and Work Experience. However, as a potential applicant, it’s important to keep in mind how you fulfill each of these requirements.

Pointers for Applying

There are many components to scholarship applications. Some of them are very simple, involving nothing but submitting a résumé, while others might be very long and involved processes, including essays, lists of activities, and interviews. Here are just a few pointers that will help you through the application process.

  •  Scholarship committees look for specific individuals who represent the principles they think are important for success. It is good to be aware of your principles and to stand up for them.
  •  Scholarships are about selling yourself, so make sure that you tastefully underscore your accomplishments. Committees like a certain degree of bragging, after all, just not too much.
  •  Keep in mind who’s on the selection committees. Doing this will help you avoid saying things that might challenge their political or religious sentiments and therefore disqualify yourself even if you’re a strong candidate.
  •  Remember that your current activities will help or hinder you in applying for scholarships later on. Preparing now will make it easier to apply later, and sometimes that may come down to sacrificing other things that you’d like to do. Chances are, however, that your sacrifice will eventually pay off.
  •  Be proactive. Search for opportunities to make yourself a better applicant. You could develop your own internship or offer to coordinate a large activity.
  •  Even if you think you’re only barely eligible, apply! You may be the only person who was motivated enough to do so!
  •  Remember, not applying is the quickest way to close doors. It’s much better to try and fail than to not to try at all. The path to scholarships is littered with rejection letters, but those shouldn’t dishearten you to future possibilities.
Essays & Written Applications

Most scholarships involve some sort of written portion, usually an essay. These essays are important because they communicate your values and opinions to committees.

  •  Distinguish yourself. It’s important to consider why your view is unique. Often, these committees are reviewing over a hundred applicants, and the more you distinguish yourself in a positive manner, the better.
  •  Answer the question! Make sure that you answer the questions, even if you don’t like them. A pet peeve of many committee members is when applicants don’t answer the questions that were asked.
  •  Type your essay and application. While many scholarships do accept handwritten applications, typing them shows that you care about your application and put time into it.
  •  Watch your grammar. Committee members often list typos or grammatical errors as a surefire reason for rejection. Thus, always read over your essays several times and have other people proofread them.
  •  Write actively. Using verbs such as “managed,” “coordinated,” or “facilitated” sounds much more impressive than saying you merely worked in an organization.
  •  Manage your time. Make sure that you leave yourself enough time to write your essays. It’s important to plan out what you’re going to say and have time for feedback, and writing your essays the night before they’re due often won’t suffice.
  •  Prepare for common essay questions. Some scholarship essays are very common. It could save you some time and effort to keep answers to these questions on file, or at least think through your answers, so that you can easily retrieve those answers and adjust them to fit the scholarship for which you’re applying. Here are examples of those common essay questions:

Tell us about yourself.
What’s your most significant (academic) achievement?
Who or what has influenced you the most and why?
What are your career (academic) goals?
How will this scholarship help you achieve your goals?
Why should we select you for this scholarship?

Résumés & Lists of Activities

Many scholarships want a list of your activities, both on and off campus. This list is not only useful for the committee, but for you as well. Your list should include:

  •  The name of each event
  •  A comprehensive description of the event
  •  What you specifically did
  •  When your involvement started and ended
  •  The approximate among of hours per week you devoted to the activity

You may find it helpful to keep a long list of everything you ever did. This comprehensive list should include everything that you’ve done in the past few years. It’s not only a great way for you to remember everything you did, but you can also select certain activities to highlight in your different applications. Your list should include leadership, service, work, athletics, awards & honors, internships, and work experience.

Letters of Recommendation

One important consideration many students overlook when applying for scholarships is choosing the best people to write letters of recommendation. The people who recommend you paint a picture of you for selection committees, and you want to make sure that you’re painting a positive, well-rounded portrait.

  •  Ask for recommendations from people (professors, supervisors, advisors, etc.) who know you well.
  •  Consider the goal(s) of the scholarship. If it’s a physics scholarship, it will probably help you to get letters of recommendation from your physics professors, rather than your philosophy professors.
  •  Provide a résumé, as well as some strong project or paper you completed to the people from whom you’re asking for recommendations. This will allow them to write more specifically about your skills and accomplishments.

Many larger scholarships require an interview. This is an opportunity for you to show the passion you have for what you do and your desire to continue successfully.

  •  Keep a neat appearance. Although this might seem unimportant, your appearance gives committees an impression of your degree of professionalism and how much you care about the scholarship. Consider dressing in semi-formal or formal business attire, even if it’s not requested.
  •  Be prepared. Make sure that you’re familiar with what you wrote in your application as you may be asked to elaborate on it.
  •  Keep your answers succinct, but be sure to answer the question. Interviews are only allotted for certain periods of time, and wordiness often doesn’t help your chances of receiving the scholarship.
  •  Practice interviews. Gather together a group of friends or faculty and have them give you a mock interview to prepare you for what’s ahead and perhaps relieve a few of those jitters. And speaking of jitters, it’s okay to be nervous; committees expect it.