Maximizing Your Scholarship Odds
By Brynne Mack
As a non-traditional college student, finding scholarships to apply to can be easy. Do a simple online search, and you’ll be bombarded with opportunities. After you apply, however, you’ll usually find that you’re not bombarded with award letters. There’s a simple reason why: you’re one applicant amongst hundreds, if not thousands. Even if you wrote a perfect essay, there were probably tens if not hundreds who also wrote perfect essays, and the sponsor of the scholarship liked theirs better.
The odds are skewed against you, but there is something you can do. Apply to scholarships with a smaller pool of applicants. They’re generally harder to find. You may not be able to just hop on your computer and type a generic phrase into the search engine. But when you know where to look, you’ll find that there are opportunities to put the odds in your favor all around you.
Where to Look
The first place to check is your school’s financial aid office. Ask about scholarships that are only open to students who attend your institution. In today’s day and age, most of these will be available online on your college’s Web site. If you can’t find them there, don’t give up. You may still have to go in person to get a paper application. The fact that only your classmates will be applying automatically shrinks the pool of applicants in your favor. If you’re attending a school with a relatively low tuition rate, the odds may be even better for you as many students may have all of their tuition costs covered by Pell and state grants, leaving them less likely to seek out further educational funding. (If your tuition costs are covered in this manner, still apply for scholarships. Many of them will cover personal expenses like rent and food while you are a student.)
If you do not already belong to a club, fraternity or professional organization that pertains to your decided major, or another entity correlated to your institution of higher learning, consider joining one. These organizations frequently offer scholarships to their members, and you likely meet all qualifiers. The fact that you belong to these organizations means that you have an interest in what it does, which usually means that you’ll meet the scholarship’s requirements and be able to write a knowledgeable essay. If you belong to a fraternity or honors society that doesn’t offer a scholarship at your chapter, think bigger. The national organization that your chapter chartered with probably does. For example, the ASL (American Sign Language) Honor Society offers annual scholarships to members of any of their chapters that are able to do an essay in both English, and ASL, and provide documentation of both your studies in the field and affiliation with your local deaf community.
If you’re a member of an honor society, these requirements should be attainable, and because the pool is small when compared to scholarships you can find with an online search, the odds of your being noticed are significantly higher. The American Medical Association offers a similar opportunity with their Physicians of Tomorrow awards. Not only are there awards on the national level for future physicians, but there is also an award for future medical journalists, as well as awards based on region. You’re in your field because you’re interested in it. Get involved, if for no other reason, than to earn opportunities for scholarships and networking.
Another place to check is your place of employment. Many companies will run tuition reimbursement programs for their employees, especially if they’re studying in a field relevant to their current career path. Tuition reimbursement is a great option, but if you don’t have the funding up front you may be forced to take out loans. Scholarships are better. This is why you should talk to someone knowledgeable in your Human Resources department to see if the company offers scholarships to any of their employees. You may want to check with any unions or companies your parents were affiliated with during the course of their careers, as well. Surprisingly enough, even as an adult student your parents’ current or former employer may extend scholarship opportunities to you simply because you are their child. The necessary affiliation in either of these scenarios limits the number of applicants, which means your chances of being chosen improve.
Also look at other organizations you or your parents are or were affiliated with. While the GI Bill is the most commonly known way for military members and their families to obtain funding for college, there are also several scholarship opportunities for veterans, service members, and their children sponsored in the private sector. Are there any members of a Rotary Club, Lions Club, or Freemasonry? How about professional organizations outside of your employer themselves? Exploring these options may open up unique opportunities to you based on your and your family’s unique affiliations.