With the economy still suffering and the unemployment rate still relatively high, a college degree is becoming a must. Whether it is a four-year, community or technical college, however, the price is never cheap. A great way for students to cut down on the cost of their education is by getting scholarships. However, the scholarship process can be very stressful and confusing to understand.
Who can get scholarships
Thousands of different scholarships are out there, and each one is geared to different groups of people. Scholarships can be awarded to students who show outstanding abilities in sports, the arts or academics, but those aren’t the only types of scholarships available. Money is also being given for inherent traits such as left-handedness and ethnicity. Students also may qualify for broad-based scholarships such as the Montgomery County scholarship, which is available to anyone who lives in the county. Finally, students can apply for specific scholarships, such as the Parent Teacher Association scholarships that are given from the elementary school the student went to.
Amy Koci is an admissions representative at Fortis College in Centerville. She works with the new students who want to attend the college and gives advice on how to apply for scholarships. “To save on time, a great thing to do is write a couple of different essays and save them on your computer. When you see a scholarship that requires an essay, tailor one of the essays you already have written to that specific scholarship,” she said.
Koci also advises against procrastinating. “You want to get everything together and send the applications in before the deadline. It shows whoever is awarding the scholarship that you are organized and punctual,” she said.
Each scholarship will require different documents that may include the Student Aid Report (SAR) from the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), a letter of acceptance to the college of your choice, a letter of recommendation from teachers or coaches, transcripts and even essays. It’s a very good idea to have all of these documents on hand so they can be sent to multiple scholarship opportunities.
Collegeanswer.com is a website by the Sallie Mae Company that helps students through the scholarship process for free. They offer many tips for applying and winning scholarships:
Be organized. Stay on top of deadlines, gather all pertinent documents, and make copies of everything you submit. It is a good idea to send your applications by certified mail to ensure receipt.
Be honest. Don’t exaggerate your grades, memberships, skills or qualifications. It is better to focus on the scholarships for which you might be eligible.
Follow instructions carefully. Some scholarships require you to write an essay; others may want letters of recommendation. Send in what is requested. Missing materials can cost you a scholarship.
Proofread your application: Review everything. Typos are a sure way not to be considered for a scholarship. Consider asking a parent, teacher or friend to read your application.
Keep copies of everything you send: If your application is misplaced, having copies will make it easier to resend your information quickly.
Send your application packet by registered mail: Many sources offering scholarships will not confirm receipts of your application. Consider sending your application via U.S. mail so you know your materials arrived safely.
Advice from Fairmont alumni
Danielle McCreary graduated from Fairmont last year and is now a freshman at Wright State. To help pay for her education, she has applied for many different scholarships, such as the Women in Leadership Scholarship, Asian Student Association Scholarship, Honors Scholarship and others she found on the FAFSA website.
McCreary says she had a lot of help finding and applying for these scholarships. “My mom helped me a ton, and my adviser at Wright State guided me in the right direction to find good scholarship websites,” she said.
Now that McCreary is in college, she looks back and sees what she could have changed in high school. She offers tips to high school students who are going through the process currently. “Make sure you always do well in school because you don’t want to have to take out a bunch of loans in college for simply not applying yourself. Also take advantage of any scholarship you can because any amount of money will help,” McCreary said.
Scholarships for Sinclair
Taylor Bingaman is a senior at Fairmont and has been given a special scholarship that only applies to Fairmont Career Tech Center (CTC) students. She has been participating in the marketing CTC program both her junior and senior years and is being awarded a two-year scholarship to Sinclair Community College. She had to meet other requirements to earn the scholarship. “I had to pass the class with a 2.0 GPA and pursue a business degree at Sinclair or else the scholarship can’t be applied,” she said.
Bingaman has worked hard these past two years to get this scholarship but admits she didn’t do it all on her own. “Nancy Brown, Robin Holweger and Dave Elliott all played a role in helping me achieve this scholarship. My parents have also helped me tremendously by setting everything up,” she said. “It’s definitely easier when you have help.”
Tips from a pro
Larry Lamb, a South Unit guidance counselor at Fairmont, helps students apply for scholarships daily. Lamb says there a few things students need to know to help them through the scholarship process. “Pay attention to deadlines,” he said. “Get your FAFSA filled out as early as possible and be sure to check the Fairmont website frequently for scholarships.”
Lamb also says things that students don’t do will hurt their chance for a scholarship. “The biggest mistakes students make are simply not following directions or filling out things incompletely. They also hurt their chances by doing a sloppy job on the scholarship application. If you want people to give you money, you better do it neatly,” Lamb said.
When it comes to scholarships, no amount of money is too small. “There are millions of dollars of scholarship money that goes unclaimed each year. Don’t turn your nose up at $300 just because it doesn’t seem that big,” he said. “Every little bit helps pay for college.”
Applying for scholarships can be a stressful process, but there are ways to manage all of the stress. Lamb advises looking for scholarships as soon as senior year begins to get a head start and hopefully alleviate some stress later on. “The scholarships process is a lot of work but, it will be worth it in the end,” Lamb said.