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|EDUCATION: BS - Physics from Portland State University||BLOG: Cosmos Caitlin|
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Are Scholarships Worth It?
All college students have heard it from parents, counselors, professors, and pretty much anyone else who has anything to say about finances as a student: “Have you filled out any scholarship applications yet?.... How many?....What kinds?...”
The list goes on and on.
After writing all those heartfelt essays, asking for recommendation letters, and touching up the resume, we still tend to ask—was it all worth it? I personally have had tons of scholarships that I never even came close to receiving, but also a select few that I have been able to snag over the years. In reality, I usually end up filling out tons of applications with full knowledge that I almost definitely will not receive the scholarship. So why even fill them out in the first place?
There are countless reasons we give ourselves to think that we are not good enough to be awarded free money. Many scholarships are based around a certain class standing and have the requirement of documented financial need. If that’s not enough, most are aimed at a certain niche group, like someone who has parents that work for a specific company, which easily makes a person feel like they’ll never find one they qualify for.
But what if it’s all about mentality? Maybe it’s just that we aren’t looking in the right places or are settling for the wrong scholarships when there are others that would fit us better. All this is true, but who really has time to spend hours scouring the internet for the perfect scholarship? Seriously, no one. Over the years I’ve applied for many scholarships and have developed a few ways to make the process a little less painful. As I am in full swing of applying myself, I decided to write down and share my few tips and tricks for applications.
It’s likely that your school has a financial aid application that they make due in the spring for the following school year. For instance, my school’s general scholarship application is due in April every year. This is probably the best place to start because this is where you can access specific scholarships that are through your department. Always start as close to home as possible.
These types of scholarships are SUPER convenient because they help you avoid having to do things like upload your CV/Resume to every single application. Usually school websites have this type of format and also state-funded scholarship websites.
It might be tempting to only apply for scholarships that offer large amounts of money, because in the end what will a $300 scholarship do anyways? Think about it this way: If you spend say two hours on this one scholarship (writing the essays, rounding up letters of recommendation, etc.) and you end up getting it, that will be equivalent of making $150/hour! It’s also much more likely that the small scholarship awards will have fewer applicants. But watch out, small awards also usually mean they are much more specialized at who they want to give the award to.
Many scholarships out there are aimed at a specific class level, say college seniors, who are getting ready to complete their final year of school. So if you are a junior this year, make sure to take note of the name of the scholarship and the (relative) due date so that you don’t have to spend the time looking for it next year. Ideally you can start making this list your first year of college and keep adding to it on into graduate school. A serious time saver!
This one is probably the most difficult, and one that I still need to work on myself. It’s so tempting to think “If I just devote the next five hours to finding the perfect list of scholarships, I’ll be set!”. No. Too often this happens and you find yourself with 30 open tabs and a list a mile long, feeling like you MUST complete them all. Limit yourself to maybe five to ten scholarships per session that you really look at to make sure you are willing/able to complete them. After that, call it good for the day. Maybe start on actually writing the essays for one or two of them. The key is not to just keep adding to the list of applications until you forget which ones looked really good and the ones you just settled for. Quality, not quantity.
Now, the main thing to remember is not to simply fill out as many as you possibly can, but to do your highest quality work for as many as your timeframe allows. Writing a good quality essay that is tailored to each one will go much further than writing one essay and making it fit into prompts that don’t really relate. Also make sure that the other components are tailored to each individual scholarship as well. Yes, in some cases that means you’ll have to alter even your resume to better fit a certain application.
Whew! I’m sure you’re saying “Caitlin, that sounds like so much work. There’s no way I’m going to do that for just a tiny bit of money”. And it’s true, scholarships aren’t for everyone. But you might think about what the alternative is. Loans? And for how many semesters/years? One thing that really kicks me into gear is calculating how many hours I’ll have to work to pay back just the loans I’ve already acquired. Trust me, it’s not pretty.