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Secrets to Winning a Scholarship
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Secrets to Winning a Scholarship

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Check out these secrets to winning a scholarship, from financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz. Learn how to find scholarships along with helpful tips for making your application stand out from the …

Check out these secrets to winning a scholarship, from financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz. Learn how to find scholarships along with helpful tips for making your application stand out from the crowd!

Published in: Education, Economy & Finance

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  • There are 1-1/2 million scholarships worth more than $3 billion dollars. Mark wrote Secrets to Winning a Scholarship to help families find and win these scholarships.
  • Grants = grants or scholarships
  • STEM fields are more likely to win scholarships than non-STEM fields. Of students enrolled full-time at 4-year colleges, 17.0% of STEM win scholarships vs. 12.1% of students in non-STEM fields.These statistics are for students enrolled full-time at a 4-year college and seeking a Bachelor’s degree in the specified major.
  • But you can still win even if your grades aren’t stellar. Every scholarship sponsor is looking for the students who best match their criteria. Instead of academic talent, they might be looking for artistic talent or athletic talent or even something a bit unusual. One of Mark’s favorite unusual scholarships involves making a prom costume out of duct tape. That may seem gray and boring, but duct tape comes in many colors. The winners are incredibly creative and make amazing costumes. It’s a nice way of winning $5,000 each for you and your date.
  • Above average test scores twice as likely to win as below average test scores. Average SAT is about 1,000 and average ACT is about 21.SAT >= 1,000 (9.2%) twice as likely to win as SAT < 1,000 (3.8%)ACT >= 21 (9.0%) twice as likely to win as ACT < 21 (3.7%)
  • Minority students are less likely to win scholarships than white students enrolled full-time at 4-year colleges. White students are 61.8% of college population, but win 71.5% of the scholarships. Minority students are 38.2% of college population, but win 28.5% of the scholarships.This is probably not due to intentional discrimination, but rather because the sponsors of scholarships establish the scholarship programs based on their interests and values, and these criteria resonate more with students of the same race. For example, minority students are much less likely to pursue equestrian sports or water polo as Caucasian students and are more likely to major in business than in mathematics, science or economics. Geography may also have an impact.
  • It is very difficult for scholarship sponsors to choose between two extremely talented finalists for a scholarship, so the decision can often be arbitrary. Often there is no wrong choice for a winner. Skill gets you selected as a finalist, but the final choice of who wins may be purely random. So applying to more scholarships (for which you are qualified) will increase your chances of winning a scholarship.
  • Many families wait until the spring of the senior year in high school, missing half of the deadlines. Give examples of scholarships for younger students: Jif PB&J, Spelling Bee, Geography Bee, Doodle 4 Google, art, writing, community service, national marbles tournament (mibsters). If a scholarship listing book is more than one or two years old, it is too old to be useful. About 10% of scholarships change in some material way each year, such as a change in address or eligibility requirements.One of the advantages of online scholarship databases is the ability to update the database more frequently than in a book. The scholarship database is updated daily and the site will send you email when there is a new scholarship that matches your profile.
  • You can double your chances of winning a scholarship by being thorough in answering all of the questions in the background profile. Students who answer the optional questions match twice as many scholarships, on average, as students who answer just the required questions. The optional questions are there to trigger the inclusion of specific scholarships. It takes a little extra time to list all your hobbies, activities, affiliations and other attributes, but it is worth the effort. Near-miss matches can help encourage a student to improve their grades to qualify for more scholarships.Students often express disdain for small scholarships and essay contests, saying that they are not worth the effort. But it is precisely because fewer students apply that these scholarships are easier to win.
  • This graph shows how the number of scholarship matches increases when students answer more of the optional questions. About 30% of the questions in the background profile are required and the rest are optional.
  • Expected value is the product of the chances of winning the scholarship with the amount you get if you win the scholarship. A less competitive scholarship with a lower top prize may have a higher expected value because your chances of winning are better. The accomplishments resume can help you complete the scholarship application and improve your awareness of your strengths and interests. It can also help your teachers write better letters of recommendation.
  • Most people can speak and think at a rate of 100 to 200 words per minute, but type or write at a rate of 35 to 60 words per minute. The act of writing interferes with the flow of thought. After you transcribe the recording, you can revise the essay to add structure through an outline of your thoughts. Such an essay will be more fluent and passionate, making it more interesting and lively.You should proofread a printed copy of the essay because it will be easier to find errors when you are looking at the essay in a different format. Don’t rely too much on the spelling and grammar checkers that are built into the word processing software, as these programs miss a lot of errors, such as valid-word spelling errors (e.g., its vs. it’s, though vs. through, principal vs. principle).
  • Be sure to thank the people who help you because you may want to ask them for more help later. It is very rare for students to say thank you, so by being polite you will stand out and make a good impression.
  • This may sound like common sense, but common sense is not all that common. If you don’t pay attention to the interviewer’s name, you will quickly forget it. This can lead to awkward situations later in the conversation. Asking how to spell the name can backfire if the interviewer has a common name, like S-M-I-T-H. Asking for a copy of the interviewer’s business card can help, especially since it gives you an address for sending a thank you letter. But respect the business card. Do not use it to pick your teeth or clean under your fingernails.
  • The voice quality on a corded phone is much clearer than on a cordless phone, cell phone or Skype connection. Try to place the webcam at the center of the video of the interviewer, so that you are always looking at the camera, instead of continually shifting your eyes to the side to look at the video. This can make you look distracted.
  • Just as you would want to present a professional appearance in a face-to-face interview, you need to have a professional appearance online. It can make a difference between winning and losing a scholarship. When you are asking someone for money, try to make a good impression.Scholarship sponsors are increasingly checking the online appearance of finalists to determine whether they demonstrate good judgment and will reflect well on the sponsor.
  • Keep receipts for books, supplies and equipment and ask the college for an adjustment to the cost of attendance if your total costs exceed the allowance within the student budget.The tax-free status of a scholarship when used for tuition, required fees, books and supplies requires the student to be pursuing a degree.
  • Unclaimed aid: The most common form of the unclaimed aid myth says that $6.6 billion went unclaimed last year. But this figure is based on estimates (not a tabulation) of employer tuition assistance, not scholarships, from a 1976-77 study by the National Institute of Work and Learning. The only scholarships that ever go unclaimed can’t be claimed. For example, the Zolp scholarship is available to students at Loyola University of Chicago who were born with a last name of Zolp. Most years they have one or two students who qualify. But some years they don’t. You can’t change your name to qualify, as the last name of Zolp must appear on your birth certificate and your christening certificate. Most scholarship scams are focused on getting you to pay them money. But you should also be careful about identity theft. If a scam artist has your bank account number, they can remove money from your bank account without your signature through a demand draft.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) Secrets to Winning a Scholarship Mark Kantrowitz Publisher of Edvisors.com
    • 2. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 2 About the Author and this Talk  Mark Kantrowitz is Senior Vice President and Publisher of Edvisors.com, a group of more than a dozen web sites about planning and paying for college  Prior to joining Edvisors, Mark was publisher of Fastweb.com and FinAid.org, web sites about scholarships and financial aid  Mark is a nationally recognized expert on student financial aid and a member of the board of directors of the National Scholarship Providers Association  This talk is based on Mark’s book, Secrets to Winning a Scholarship, available on Amazon.com
    • 3. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 3 Overview  Who Wins Scholarships?  Basic Strategies for Winning Scholarships  Searching for Scholarships  Tips on Winning Scholarships  Pitfalls and Dangers  After You Win a Scholarship  Top Ten Lists  Key Scholarship Resources
    • 4. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 4 Who Wins Scholarships?  Very few students win a completely free ride – Of students enrolled full-time at a 4-year college • 0.3% get enough grants to cover the full COA • 1.0% get enough grants to cover 90% or more of the COA • 3.4% get enough grants to cover 75% or more of the COA • 14.3% get enough grants to cover 50% or more of the COA – Of students winning scholarships, more than two-thirds (69.1%) received less than $2,500  More students at 4-year colleges win scholarships – 8.3% of students at 4-year colleges win scholarships – 2.6% of students at 2-year colleges win scholarships
    • 5. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 5 Some Majors are More Lucrative Major Percentage Winning Average Award Math/Statistics 23.2% $4,059 Engineering 17.6% $3,075 Physical Sciences 17.1% $3,180 Life Sciences 16.9% $2,649 Education 15.0% $2,420 Health 14.8% $2,880 Social Sciences 12.7% $3,063 Humanities 12.5% $2,623 Computer Science 11.1% $2,974 Business 9.1% $2,828
    • 6. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 6 More Students with Good Grades Win Cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) on a 4.0 Scale High School GPA (% Winning Scholarships) College GPA (% Winning Scholarships) 0.0-1.9 (D- to C) 5.7% 7.0% 2.0-2.4 (C to B-) 7.1% 9.1% 2.5-2.9 (B- to B) 9.5% 10.7% 3.0-3.4 (B to A-) 10.7% 13.1% 3.5-4.0 (A- to A) 18.7% 18.8%
    • 7. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 7 Better Test Scores Mean More Awards SAT Combined Score Probability of Winning a Scholarship < 700 2.6% 700 to 800 4.2% 800 to 900 5.4% 900 to 1000 5.8% 1000 to 1100 7.4% 1100 to 1200 8.5% 1200 to 1300 11.2% 1300 to 1400 13.2% ACT Composite Score Probability of Winning a Scholarship < 15 2.6% 15-17 4.7% 18-20 5.6% 21-23 7.3% 24-26 8.3% 27-29 11.1% 30-36 14.2%
    • 8. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 8 The Race Myth Race Percent of Recipients Percent Winning Average Award White 71.5% 14.4% $2,645 Black or African American 10.5% 11.4% $2,962 Hispanic or Latino 8.1% 9.1% $2,353 Asian 4.4% 10.5% $3,170 American Indian or Alaska Native 1.4% 32.7% $3,967 More than One Race 3.4% 16.0% $4,891 All Minority Students 28.5% 11.2% $3,167
    • 9. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 9 Strategies for Winning Scholarships  It’s a numbers game – Even among talented students, who wins involves a bit of luck, not just skill – To win more scholarships, apply to more scholarships, but only if you qualify  You can’t win if you don’t apply – One in four students never applies for financial aid  It gets easier after your first 6 applications – Essays can be reused and tailored to each new application  Don’t miss deadlines
    • 10. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 10 Searching for Scholarships  Start searching as soon as possible – If you wait until spring to start searching, you will miss half the deadlines – There are many scholarships available to students in grades 9, 10 and 11, not just high school seniors – There are even scholarships for students in grades K-8 and to current college students  Use a free scholarship matching service like StudentScholarshipSearch.com or Fastweb.com  Look for scholarship listing books at the library or bookstore, but check the publication date
    • 11. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 11 More Ways of Searching for Money  Look for local scholarships on bulletin boards near the guidance counselor or financial aid offices, or the library’s jobs and careers section  Look in the coupon section of the newspaper  Answer the optional questions on a scholarship matching service for twice as many matches  Look for near-miss matches  Pursue less competitive scholarships, such as small awards and essay contests, since they are easier to win, the money adds up and they help you win bigger scholarships
    • 12. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 12 Profile Completeness Matters 0.0% 10.0% 20.0% 30.0% 40.0% 50.0% 60.0% 70.0% 80.0% 90.0% 100.0% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% Profile Completeness Percent of Potential Matches
    • 13. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 13 Tips on Winning Scholarships  Prioritize your applications by deadline and the expected value of the scholarship  Use a calendar and checklist to get organized  Create an accomplishments resume  Tailor your application to the sponsor’s goals  Read and follow the instructions  Make your application stand out from the crowd  Ask to be nominated  Practice on a copy of the application form
    • 14. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 14 Writing a Winning Scholarship Essay  Answer the essay question orally and transcribe the recording  Use an outline to organize your thoughts  Give examples and be specific  Personalize your essay and be passionate  Write about something of interest to you  Talk about your impact on other people  Proofread a printed copy of the essay for spelling and grammar errors
    • 15. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 15 Tips for Letters of Recommendation  Ask the teacher whether she can write you a great letter of recommendation  The recommendation should be relevant to the scholarship sponsor’s goal  Provide the recommender with a copy of your accomplishments resume  Provide the recommender with a SASE and all required forms  Thank the recommender for writing the letter
    • 16. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 16 Acing the Scholarship Interview  Practice, practice, practice  Videotape a mock interview and review the recording afterward  Wear appropriate business attire  Visit the restroom before the interview  Brush your teeth and wear deodorant  Arrive 15 minutes early  Pay attention to the interviewer’s name  Be polite and send a thank you note afterward
    • 17. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 17 Telephone and Webcam Interviews  Conduct the interview in a quiet room  Use a corded phone, nor a cordless or cell phone, and do not use a speakerphone  Clean the lens on your webcam  Make sure there is nothing embarrassing within view of the webcam  Look at the webcam when you speak, not the video of the interviewer
    • 18. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 18 Other Scholarship Application Tips  Use a professional email address, such as firstname.lastname@gmail.com  Clean up the content of your Facebook account, removing inappropriate and immature material  Google your name to see what shows up  Make a photocopy of your application before mailing it  Send the application by certified mail, return receipt requested or with delivery confirmation  If rejected, ask for the reviewer comments
    • 19. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 19 After You Win a Scholarship  Understand your college’s outside scholarship policy and seek adjustments to the cost of attendance or defer a scholarship if necessary  If your scholarship is renewable, review the requirements for retaining eligibility  Tell the scholarship sponsors when you win a major award or other recognition  Understand the taxability of your scholarships – Amounts for tuition, fees, books, supplies tax-free – Amounts for room and board, transportation and other living expenses are taxable
    • 20. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 20 Beware of Scholarship Scams  If you have to pay money to get money, it is probably a scam  Never invest more than a postage stamp to get information about scholarships or to apply for a scholarship  Nobody can guarantee that you’ll win a scholarship  Do not give out personal information like bank account numbers, credit card numbers or Social Security numbers  Beware of the unclaimed aid myth
    • 21. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 21 Most Common Application Mistakes  Missing deadlines  Failing to proofread the application  Failing to follow directions (essay length, number of recommendations)  Omitting required information  Applying for an award when you don’t qualify  Failing to apply for an award for which you are eligible  Failing to tailor the application to the sponsor  Writing a boring essay
    • 22. Confidential, Distribute Only as permitted by Edvisors Network, Inc.Copyright © Edvisors Network, Inc. (www.edvisors.com) 22  Follow Mark Kantrowitz on Twitter at @mkant  Edvisors web sites about scholarships – www.studentscholarshipsearch.com – www.scholarshippoints.com  Other Scholarship Resources – www.fastweb.com – www.finaid.org/scholarships – www.finaid.org/scholarshipscams – www.ftc.gov/scholarshipscams Thank You

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