"Scholarship" is a magical word, full of promise and possibility. It's a gamble, really - not for the recipient, but for the individual or organization awarding the precious thing. It's a calculated risk that a student will take a sum of money and that the education she receives, having put that money towards tuition, will make her better, will make the school better, will make us all, by proxy, better. It's a gamble, yes. But it's noble and worthwhile, and students - sometimes the most deserving of students - have been using scholarships for generations to pursue academic careers that would otherwise be completely cost prohibitive.
So, how do you get one of these magical things? Where do you find a scholarship, and how do you go about being awarded one once you've tracked it down? We're here to help. Here are our top tips for locking down scholarships.
1. Know the basics. No two scholarships are alike. They're like snowflakes - snowflakes that don't have to be repaid and are awarded by amazing, generous people and organizations. There are merit-based scholarships, which require students to meet certain standards. That might mean a certain level of academic achievement or a special talent or interest. In still other cases, a scholarship award might be based purely on the student's financial need.
Then there are categorical scholarships, which are for specific groups of people. Got a parent in the military? There's a scholarship for that. Do you volunteer at a hospital? There's a scholarship for that, too. Do you play soccer? Read science-fiction? Sing in a church choir? Have a specific family heritage or ethnicity? You guessed it - there are scholarships for all of those.
Lastly, the amount of the scholarship is, of course, important. You could land on an opportunity that offers to pay your entire college tuition, or on a one-time award of 100 dollars. Don't turn your nose up at the small ones, because the applicant pool will be smaller and there's real benefit in chipping away at that tuition.
2. Get smart about your search. Your starting point should be the financial aid office at a college, and you should also hit up your high school guidance counselor to ask for a full list of scholarships relevant to you. Your next step should be Rhode Island's local scholarships search tool, RIScholarships.org and the US Department of Labor's scholarship search tool, at Careeronestop.org.
3. Talk to folks you know. Once you've hit up the major players in the scholarship game (see item 2 above) it's time to get personal. Talk to your pastor, your uncle's business-owner boss, your parents' employers and friends. Don't be shy - say you're looking for scholarship opportunities. Are you a member of any student organizations? It's time to ask your advisor the S Question. Belong to civic groups? Volunteer for anything? Same story. This is your chance to ask for help, so ask away. The worst thing that'll happen is you'll be told no, and you'll undoubtedly miss out on scholarship dollars if you don't ever ask.
4. Know your deadlines. This one is a theme with us, because one of our biggest frustrations is seeing awesome high school students miss out on opportunities because they don't strike when the iron is hot. That story applies here, too. Each scholarship has a different deadline, so make a note in your calendar app and then get it out the door weeks ahead of time. If you're going to need to do any research or submit documents, give yourself an extra week or two.
Scholarships really are magical, and they're also very, very real. If you're smart about your search, exploit opportunities to jump on free money, and stay on top of your deadlines, you're going to find a world of kind, generous individuals and organizations willing to take a chance on you. Get those scholarships, and then don't let them down.