17 December 2009

Scholarships 101: How to Compete for Some Major Dough

As some of you know, I'm the student assistant to the director of national and international scholarships, which means I get to work with scholarships A LOT!  My position is an undergraduate fellowship, which means I actually spend most of my time researching scholarships and related materials for Ball State students. Scholarships are money awards to students for their education that do not have to be repaid.  As such, they're incredibly useful for reducing--and sometime eliminating--your college debts.

Now, our office doesn't handle freshmen scholarships (ie. we don't advice high school seniors on what scholarships to apply for), but in my searches I frequently find some fabulous scholarships for high school and freshmen students.  Normally I just send these to my mother, who works as a high school guidance counselor, but I've realized I can reach a LOT more students via this blog.  And really, more students should be applying for these scholarships-- you'd be surprised how much money you can make.  SO, here's the scoop. . .

First, always, ALWAYS file a FAFSA.  In most cases, you must have one filed to qualify for scholarships (not to mention financial aid). 

To find scholarships, here are some starting points:

If you're applying to Ball State, start with our freshman honors scholarship database.  Also, be sure to check the website of the department you'll be in (for example, if you're studying education, check the Teacher's College web-page).  If you can't find information, just send an email to the department head and ask if any are available.

There are also many online scholarship databases: 

I'm in charge of the database Ball State keeps for its students.  Check it out here (and feel free to complement me on a fabulous job well done!).  :-)  
While you're there, check out our Scholarships Resources and Frequently
Asked Questions

(*****This database/website is primarily for
currently enrolled Ball State students; high school students might have
better luck here, though they should still check the other out!)

 Perhaps you've heard of Fast Web or have joined?   It's a good resource, but I think Dr. Torres' Scholarship Database is better.  For a full list of helpful databases, go to our Scholarship Database List.  Also, search engines like Google or Bing can give you some good ideas.

remember to check your local community for scholarships.  If they are
not immediately apparent, just go to your high school's guidance office
and ask.  


Now you're all scholarship savvy and prepared, but how do you become competitive for scholarships?  Well, to help you prepare for your scholarship application, I've decided to provide you with the information we give to our students! This information will help you with ANY scholarship application for ANY school.

Most scholarships are going to ask you about your. . . 

1.  Academic Achievement

      While this does have to do with your GPA, it also involves whether or not you were involved in a special learning experience (for example, did you take many AP courses in high school?).  When you're evaluating your academic achievement, ask yourself questions like, Did I take the most rigorous coursework my high school offered?  Did I earn an Honors Diploma or the equivalent?  Did I have to overcome any hardships to do well in school?  Did I participate in or do anything extra-ordinary that my peers did not?  Did I study abroad or work with international communities?  Did I join any academic honors societies?  You do not have to answer "Yes" to all of these questions, but they do give you a starting point for filling out an application.

2.  Strong Record of School Involvement and Leadership

      What do you do in your free time?  Maybe you play on a sports team, are a musician, or are active in some clubs?  This section looks at how you're interacting with your peers in non-academic settings and whether or not you've assumed leadership roles.  As a note about leadership, this doesn't need to mean you were elected as your class president (though it could).  You can show leadership in many ways.  Maybe you tutor other students, edit the school's newspaper, or lead a committee.  If you're not sure how you've shown leadership, just ask someone who knows you well.  (Mothers and loved teachers are a great resource!)

3.   Strong Record of Community Involvement and Service

     This is the one that most students stumble on.  I can't say it enough: volunteer! Find something you're interested in and do it!  You can tutor other students, work in an animal shelter, help in a hospital or nursing home, work with the Red Cross, build bird housed for your town's parks. . . .  Really, the list goes on and on!  I was involved in band in high school, so I helped teach beginning music to incoming sixth graders. 

     Here's a HUGE tip for you:  Scholarship committees like to see dedication.  It is better to spend one hour a week for a year volunteering somewhere you feel passionate than to spend 10 hours one week doing something you never return to.  Find something you enjoy and stick with it.  You don't have to spend much time doing it, but consistency and dedication really will win the race. 

4.  Outstanding Letters of Recommendation

     You need someone to verify how awesome you say you are, which means you need to get to know some of the adults around you.  Teachers, religious leaders, coaches, employers. . . all these people work well for letters of recommendation.  Do not, I repeat, do NOT use family members for this.  You need to branch out and ask other people. 

     When you ask for a letter of recommendation, give your letter writer at least a month to write your letter.  Also, follow these tips for success we give to all Ball State students.  

5.  Excellent Writing Skills

     Not a good writer? That's fine, just have your English teacher proofread EVERYTHING you submit.  Are you an excellent writer?  That's fine, just have your English teacher proofread EVERYTHING you submit. Bottom line, HAVE AN EXPERT IN ENGLISH PROOFREAD EVERYTHING YOU SUBMIT!!!!  Encourage them to be critical, honest, and tough.  I literally go through 8 or 9 drafts before I submit any given essay for a scholarship.  Choose your words carefully, be precise, give examples, and take gender-bias out of your writing (ie. choose "firefighters" over "firemen").  Your audience is usually comprised of highly-educated college professors; so let someone who's been in that arena proofread your work.

6.  Drive and Vision for Learning and for your Future, Your Career, Your Contributions to Society or Your Discipline

     Does this mean you know exactly what you want to do with your life? NO!  But you should have passion about something.  Have a vision for how you might conduct your future.  Vague is better than nothing.  Ask yourself, What do I feel passionately about?  How can I see myself contributing to society?  Usually students are already doing something related to their passion or vision, but not always.  Give this one some deep thought, and if you need to, try bouncing ideas off of someone you respect-- a lot of times these people will help you think more critically about yourself.

***For scholarships with an interview, you must also have. . .

7.  Excellent Speaking Skills and Personal Presence; Ability to Think on Your Feet; and a Sense of Humor Helps!

     Practice makes perfect.  Ask your guidance counselor to help you prepare for an interview.  Be sure you have at least one practice interview and get feedback!

8.  Awareness of National and World Issues and Current Events, and Ability to Speak Easily About Them

     Read the newspaper or watch the news EVERYDAY!  This will be enough to prepare you.  I'm fond of online news sources since they're free (and I haven't owned a TV in four years. . . yeah. . .).  I'm a BBC fan, though the New York Times, CNN, or The Economist are all good sources of information.   I also listen to NPR on my radio.  The important thing?  BE AWARE OF WHAT'S GOING ON!!!

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