Scholarships: How to find, complete and get them!

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One of the biggest concerns students have about going to college is money. How are you going to pay for it? I mean, financial aid can help — but what if you need more than that? Or just want fewer loans? That’s where scholarships come in!

Scholarships are aid for college that vary in amount, eligibility requirements and potential for renewal. There are a ton of them out there. But even with so many scholarships available, the whole process can be tricky. First you have to know where to find them. Then you have to find the motivation to actually sit down and fill them out. And on top of THAT you have to know how to fill them out correctly to better your chances of actually receiving them.

Having been through the scholarship hunt myself, I thought I could help you out a little in each of these areas. If you’ve watched our video blog, you might be familiar with some of these things already but it’s definitely worth repeating.

Step 1: The Search

If you’re in high school, check with your high school guidance counselor and with clubs, activities and organizations you are actively involved with to see if there are any local scholarship opportunities. You should also talk with your parents. Sometimes activities your parents are involved in (work, organizations around town, etc., ) can help you get scholarships, too.

Another good search method is the Internet. Websites such as FastWeb and Scholarships.com are great resources. (Note: you should never have to pay to use a scholarship search site.)

And finally, check with your future school! The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh has the following web pages to assist in your scholarship search: http://www.uwosh.edu/admissions/scholarships/ and http://www.uwosh.edu/fin_aid/types-of-financial-aid/scholarships/available-scholarship. As I mentioned before, eligibility requirements differ per scholarship. You can continue to get scholarships throughout your education — not just your first year — so keep looking once you’re enrolled! Some departments on campus even offer scholarships specifically to students in a particular major. Never underestimate the power of an extra $400 a semester.

Great! You’ve found some scholarships. Now what?

Step 2: The Paperwork

Lacking motivation? Here’s some food for thought: if you spend two hours working on a scholarship application for a scholarship valued at $1000… and you get it… you just made $500 an hour. If you worked for minimum wage ($7.25) you would have to work a little under 138 hours to make that much money. 138 hours!! (And that’s not factoring in taxes and stuff.)

Now that you’ve found your motivation, it helps to get organized with a list of deadlines. You don’t want to accidentally miss a deadline and make all your hard work for naught.

Next, double check that you meet all the eligibility requirements. If you have questions about vague requirements, don’t be afraid to call or contact the scholarship provider and clarify.

The input method of scholarships can differ depending on the organization. Some scholarships are online, in which case you will type your responses. Others may be PDFs that you mail in. And you may handwrite some. If you are writing by hand, use a black ink pen. Write slowly. If there is a long essay or you have additional information that will not fit on the paper application, write, “See attachment.” and include a typed version of your essay or additional information. Clearly identify what question your attachments are answering.

If your scholarship requires a letter of recommendation, reach out to people who you feel know you best. Choose people for this appropriately. If it is an academically based scholarship, try to get a teacher or school associate to write a letter for you. If it is for a club or organization, have someone who can accurately attest to your achievements in that area. If it is something work-related, an employer is your best bet. One recommendation letter does not fit all. Once you’ve chosen who you’d like to write your recommendation letter, give them adequate time to complete the letter. Asking a few days before your deadline is not very courteous and may result in a subpar recommendation.

You may find that several scholarships ask the same type of questions. For example, many scholarships may ask for your GPA, future school / major, extracurricular involvement and volunteer activities. It helps to make a “cheat sheet” of these common answers for quick reference. That way you’ll make sure you don’t forget anything and you’ll save yourself time. Note: the exact wording or requirements within the question may vary. Take time to read exactly what the question is looking for – don’t just copy/paste your cheat sheet answers on each form.

When you’ve completed your scholarship application, try to send everything at once.

Step 3: Increasing your Chances of Getting the Scholarship

It’s not just enough to fill out the scholarship. You have to make sure you fill it out better than everyone else. Now, you won’t be able to change everything. You can’t change things like GPA and involvement throughout high school at the last second. If you think you’re on the border… or even if you feel confident in your GPA and involvement… you’ll benefit from these helpful tips:

    1. Spell check! On your own. Don’t trust Microsoft Word to do it for you. Words like “you’re” and “your” are spelled correctly on their own, but in context may be incorrect. “Its” and “It’s” also pose a problem, as well as the ever-infamous “they’re,” “there,” and “their.” Don’t let these common errors ruin your chances! Proofread your materials – every question – and have a few other people do it as well. You can never be too cautious on this one.
    2. Provide specific examples. It can be easy to assume that everyone knows what DECA is or how much effort it takes to coordinate homecoming… but in reality, it’s not so clear-cut. If you were an active participant during high school you should provide specific examples. Explain your organizations. Outline your role. Provide insight into how your involvement in those activities has helped you become a better person and better your community. The scholarship committee doesn’t necessarily know who you are — you have one chance to make a first impression — so do it right.
    3. Although you should be specific, you should also be concise. Don’t write a five-page essay. Get to the point. Trim superflous words. When you’re trying to stand out in a heap of 100+ scholarship applications, you can’t risk someone getting bored halfway through your essay. That’s like a one-way trip to the “no” pile.
    4. Don’t copy/paste the same essay onto every scholarship. It can be easy to want to cut corners… especially when the scholarships seem similar… but it makes a big difference to rewrite each essay to directly address the scholarship at hand. If you’re applying for a Nursing-specific scholarship, you should explain how your involvement and future dreams directly relate to being a nurse. If you’re applying for a scholarship related to volunteerism, you should talk about your volunteer experience and what you plan to continue doing in the future. Some concepts may overlap, but the overall theme will differ.
    5. Along those same lines, make sure you address the scholarship to the correct person. When you’re filling out a lot of scholarships it is very easy to make minor mistakes, like addressing scholarships to the wrong people, so just take your time.

OK. So I know that seems like a lot of stuff to do. That’s why Step 2 is so important! Keep reminding yourself that it is worth it.

Step 4: The Waiting Game

This may be the hardest step of the entire process. Waiting. Though you won’t get every scholarship you apply for, it’s still worth it to try. If you don’t apply for scholarships… you definitely won’t get them.

My senior year of high school, I started filling out scholarships in October. I spent countless hours filling out applications. By the end of the year, I had applied for more 30 scholarships. But the time and thought I put into my essays helped me earn some state and national scholarships.  Receiving letters that started with the word “Congratulations” was very rewarding. There were also some scholarships that I just didn’t get. But you can’t win them all!

Oh and I mentioned this earlier, but don’t stop applying for scholarships once you’re in school! Though incoming freshman seem to have the most scholarship opportunities, many people forget there are many scholarships available for students of all ages and backgrounds. The UW Oshkosh Financial Aid office has a ton of scholarships listed all the time. (See the photo at the top of this post.) Departments have a lot too.

Make the commitment, start your search, and good luck with your scholarship applications! If you have any questions or would like more information, feel free to “like” my Facebook page: Alissa at UWO.

Haven’t seen our video blog yet? Check it out!

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