UCC Mainstream Online

Scholarship season coming into full bloom

TOP Coordinator Caroline Hopkins gives advice on what makes a strong scholarship application.
Sabrina Bidwell / Mainstream
TOP Coordinator Caroline Hopkins gives advice on what makes a strong scholarship application.

While many major scholarship application deadlinesave passed, like the Oregon State Access Commission (OSAC) scholarships and several four-year college foundation scholarships like Southern Oregon University and Portland State University, students can still apply to other scholarships for the 2013-2014 academic year.

Students continuing their education on campus can apply for UCC Foundation scholarships until March 8. One application can be applied to several Foundation scholarships, which means students do not have to fill out several applications for multiple scholarships.

The Foundation’s scholarship applications can be found on their website, uccfoundation.us. Students will need an essay component, an activities chart, two letters of recommendation, official transcripts, a FAFSA confirmation page and personal information.

The Foundation website also provides several outside agency scholarships applications with their own individual applications and deadlines. Outside agency scholarships most commonly come from local businesses or families.

Most of the deadlines for the outside agency scholarships are within the next three months. These outside agency scholarships can be for transfer students or continuing students depending on each scholarship’s individual criteria.

Transfer students are advised to look on their prospective four-year school’s website to find when scholarship applications are due. Most four-year institutions link their scholarship webpage with their financial aid webpage. Most four-year institutions also advertise outside agency scholarships.

Fastweb.com, Zinch.com and Scholarships.com also offer national scholarships but nationally publicized scholarships are a bit more difficult to win. “The pool of applicants is very large for national scholarships,” said Caroline Hopkins, TOP Advisor, at a recent campus scholarship workshop. “It’s best to work on local scholarships first because the pool is small, then move up to state wide, then maybe nation wide scholarships.”

Hopkins, who teaches a class on how to make strong scholarship applications and who is on scholarship selection committees, answered several questions about the application process.  

Q: How important is the essay?

A: Essays are the most important part of an application. This is the chance for a student to express how and why they stand apart from their peers. When applications are compared without essays it is just statistics, but the essay allows a student to communicate with greater depth who they are and why they are worth the investment.

Q: If an applicant perceives an area of weakness in the application, is there anything they can add to their application to compensate? 

A: Yes, the essay is the place where students can really shine and make up for weaknesses elsewhere in the application. The depth of expression available in an essay makes it more compelling than any other form of data.

Q: What can students do to improve their chances of receiving scholarships?

A: Students should have somebody look over their essays to be sure they are well written. They can begin getting involved if they haven’t already and start building their activity chart. Students can get involved on campus in any way possible. Students should make a point to connect with their teachers, especially within their field of study, as recommendations are important, and teachers are more likely to write one for a student they know. Even participating more in class will help them make connections with instructors.

Q: Besides academics and GPA, what do scholarship committees look for?

A: Screening committees are looking for somebody that is a strong investment. However you can show that you fit that bill, whether that be that you are dedicated and reliable, have done a lot of research about the direction you are headed, you are resilient, or have some other quality that will ensure your success, you are in good shape.

Q: Why do scholarship committees want to see volunteer/community service work?

A: Scholarship donors are invested in the community. (That is why they are donating money to students who are going to be our future community leaders.) Civic commitment and the betterment of the community are already a central value for them. They want to know that the student they are investing in has similar values and will use their education to do something positive for the community. Community involvement demonstrates this. It also demonstrates that the student is able to balance a lot on their plate, implying that their time management and prioritizing skills will be strong enough to lead them to success in their studies.

Q: Whom should a student ask a letter of recommendation from?

A: Students should always have at least one academic reference when references are needed. They are applying for funds for their academics, so the investor wants to see how they perform academically. If they need a second recommendation, another academic one would be good, or a recommendation from a supervisor in the workforce/volunteer service. Students NEVER want to get a recommendation from a friend or family member. Our family and friends aren’t as objective as our professional connections and the screener will not value their input as highly.

Q: Can/should one of your letters of recommendation come from an employer?

A: This can depend on who is awarding the scholarship and what it is for. It is perfectly fine to have them both be academic, but if the scholarship is for people who work at for a specific organization, or are looking for specific professional skills, an employer’s recommendation would be of great value. Also, you may have accomplished a lot at your place of work, and the skills/characteristics demonstrated there are vital for the screener to see. In that case, definitely ask your employer.

Q: Is work experience important?

A: Yes. Students with work experience demonstrate responsibility, the understanding of earning what you have, knowing the value of a dollar, and they will have more insight into what is expected in the workplace when they graduate. It is a plus if you can show longevity in one job in particular. It is better to have fewer jobs with longevity than it is to have a lot of jobs for brief periods. This speaks to the student’s commitment and ability to persevere.

Q: Is it best to generalize positions held in volunteering and/or in work, or should students describe specific tasks and skills related to the position?

A: On any application and/or resume it is very important to be specific and to use active verbs. When students use active verbs that are task oriented they are better able to express exactly what skills they bring to the table.

A: Does being a full time or part time student matter to a scholarship committee?

A: The FT status is ideal as FT students tend to have higher completion rates, but when other information is included this generalization may be proven wrong. For instance, being a single parent, or having limited Pell grants available, or even going through an illness may explain the PT status and negate the assumption that FT is always better in the eyes of the screener. However, FT status is the most traditional route, and it will allow one to be successful in a quicker manner, therefore increasing the likelihood of success in the end, and it shows that students can handle a lot of pressure. If you can take classes full time, I would recommend it.

Q: Does it make any difference if the application is one of the first turned in or if it is submitted just before the deadline?

A: I imagine that depends on the organization collecting the scholarships. On the screening committees I have sat on, I have never seen the submission date, so it was not important. However, if that information were visible, it would reflect the time management skills of the student. Last minute submissions may point to a lack of responsibility or prioritizing skills.

Q: What are some criteria that scholarship committees look for?

A: Some are need based, some are merit based, some have more specific criteria, like have served the military, worked for a certain organization, or something like that. Each scholarship committee will have their own list of criteria. When I am looking at applications I personally am looking for signs that the student is resilient, driven, hard working, has a positive attitude, is goal oriented and has knowledge about the direction they are headed.

Q: Do scholarship committees use rubrics to grade scholarship submissions?

A: Each of the screening committees I have sat on have had scoring rubrics, and I imagine most do. This is the only way to maintain objectivity.