Recently, I've heard students talking about how scholarships are "only for valedictorians" or a "waste of time." Let me set the story straight: scholarships are definitely not a waste of time and they are for EVERYONE! I can say this with full confidence -- I have been there.
In 2004, I made the decision to go to college in pursuit of an English degree. I had been out of high school for a while, already had children plus a part-time job. My husband had a decent (but not great) job, so we made too much money for me to qualify for a Pell grant but not enough for me to cover the cost of my college tuition and fees. This left me with two options; I could find ways to cover my expenses or resign myself to having a lot of student loan debt at graduation.
That's when I turned to searching and applying for scholarships. I signed up for several free scholarship search tools and began researching the scholarship programs in my results list. At first, l was spending time entering the contests that did not require much other than submitting an online application form. Then I read an article on how these programs can get thousands of applications. I soon realized I may have a better chance winning the lottery, so I switched tactics.
I began looking specifically for programs that required essays and had deadlines within the next 30 to 60 days. I also researched local writing contests through the newspaper and other area organizations. Over the years, I had saved short stories, poems and essays I had written in high school and for personal pleasure. I began submitting these stories, and to my surprise, started winning prizes ranging from $100 to $1,000. I also had some volunteer experience, and was amazed at how many awards were available to those of us who get involved with community service projects.
My first year in college was covered partially by scholarships and a small student loan. After that, my entire college education was paid for with scholarships. Now, I will not lie: I worked very hard at maintaining a high grade point average which made it possible for me to access the college’s merit-based awards, but I also won a large scholarship ($6,000) through my husband’s employer (I re-used a paper that I'd originally created for my advertising class) and another by joining an honor society (I paid a $75 membership fee and received a $5,000 scholarship – a very fair trade, I believe).
All of these scholarships were found using a free, online scholarship search tool. I spent about five to ten hours each week researching scholarship programs and completing applications. I think I applied for 20 scholarships before I won my first award, and probably sent out over 100 scholarship applications during my four years of college. In total, I won 17 scholarships valued at over $20,000.
The point I am trying to drive home here is that it takes work and dedication to win scholarships, but above all, you must believe in yourself. Too many students apply to four or five scholarship programs and just give up. If what you are doing isn’t working, look at it from a different angle. Could you compete for a music scholarship? What about an art scholarship? Would you like to find out about reading scholarships for students who love to read? There are scholarships out there just waiting for you to apply. But, if you aren't interested in the scholarship topic, or you don't believe in yourself, it could be obvious in your application and negatively impact your chances of winning. Find what you love, use work you have already received high praise for (school assignments, projects, etc.) and, above all else, keep applying for scholarships!
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