Obtaining scholarships: What you need to know

As a student you’ve heard of scholarships from your family, friends, lecturers, academic advisor and even acquaintances as you share your fears about furthering your studies maybe due to financial constraints. Taking a student loan is not an option for you as there is the clause of repayment with an interest which may increase yearly.

You have the desire to obtain an undergraduate or postgraduate degree because everyone refers to it as a lifetime opportunity, a chance to achieve your dreams, a platform that gives you an edge over your peers in the workforce and possibly ensures a luxurious or comfortable lifestyle depending on the type of scholarship.

You hear of the different grants and scholarships offered, the stress in applying for one, eligibility and required grades, English proficiency tests for study abroad students, reasons students apply for a scholarship and  fake scholarship websites on the net that are actually out to defraud unsuspecting or naive individuals. With all these Information you are overwhelmed, confused and doubtful of the scholarship process. You are not alone in this. To aid you apply for scholarships, a proper understanding of the term and what is involved, will be covered in this article.

What is a University/ College Scholarship?

Scholarships are financial aid awards designed to help students pay for an undergraduate or postgraduate degree and usually based on merit. Sometimes, a scholarship is a one-time check. Other school scholarships are renewable and provide money for students each semester or school year.

The term “grant”  is often used interchangeably, but generally “grant” is used to denote a need-based monetary gift which takes into account you or your family’s financial situation, whereas a scholarship award is based on merit. These awards differ from student loans in that they don’t have to be repaid. Students might receive the money directly as a check in their name. In other cases, the money is given to the student’s school. In these cases, the student would then pay the school for the difference on any money owed for tuition, fees, room and board. If the scholarships and other forms of financial aid are enough to cover the direct college costs, the excess money is refunded to the student.

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The “Scholarship Trap”

There is a common cautionary tale that a scholarship award might actually reduce the amount of money a student will receive from the school’s own grant program. Indeed, federal rules require schools to take into consideration outside sources of finance—scholarships included when deciding on a financial aid package. As a result, when a student wins a private scholarship from an outside source, the school could reduce the financial aid package by the amount of the award. This is usually referred to as an “overaward” by schools or “displacement” by scholarship providers. Though these policies seem unfair, you should not let overawards discourage you from applying for scholarships. Depending on the school’s policies, an overaward might be remedied by shrinking the loan portion of a student’s financial aid package, as opposed to the grant portion. You should check with your school to know what to expect.

Sources of Scholarship Funds

Scholarships come from a variety of different sources, including clubs, organizations, charities, foundations, businesses, colleges and universities, the government and individuals. Colleges and universities offer financial assistance in the form of merit aid as well, so don’t forget to contact the schools you are considering to see if you qualify for any merit aid.

How can Scholarship Money be spent?

Scholarship checks awarded in your name can be spent on anything, but you would be wise to look at this as an investment and not an opportunity to indulge in unnecessary and extravagant shopping, a free pass to splurge on video games or buy concert tickets. This money is for school expenses. This could mean tuition, but it could also be books, pencils, housing, food (you can’t study on an empty stomach) or even computers and software.When you receive the scholarship money depends on the scholarship you won. Sometimes you get the money in one chunk before school begins, and in other cases the money is distributed in installments. Sometimes a scholarship may be paid out in the middle of a semester.

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Eligibility for Scholarships

Scholarships aren’t awarded to only students with a 4.0 GPA as many think. Perhaps you’re worried about competing against other students who may have better grades, higher test scores, or more impressive extracurricular activities. If so, there is good news for you: Each scholarship has its own criteria. Some scholarships are awarded based on need. For others, you must be a member of an organization, be studying a certain field or fit whatever guidelines the group awarding the money decides upon.Regardless of whether you excel in academics, you should be able to find several scholarships that work for you. There are even scholarships intended for students living in a particular continent, country state or town. You can continue to apply for scholarships during your collegiate years all the way up to Ph.D. studies.

Where can I find Scholarship Information?

Your academic advisor, lecturers and the financial aid office at your school is likely equipped with tools and resources to help you. It may have libraries of books, catalogs or postings of scholarships, and computers you can use to search or prepare application materials.

There are also many legit websites devoted solely to searching for and finding scholarships,(which I will discuss in a subsequent article) with a vast range of features and databases. It is useful to conduct a few broad searches on large government-sponsored databases to get an idea for the types of scholarships available, but remember that the goal is to find scholarships that are looking for applicants like you.

If a website or search engine offers advanced search functions, do limit your search terms, but be creative as well: type in specific words as terms for your search and try multiple combinations of words and phrases depending on your output results. If for example, if you are looking for a scholarship that sponsors those in the physical sciences and you are a physicist or intending to be one, then you should be specific in looking out for opportunities designed for your intending field of study.

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You might even discover niche scholarships you’re eligible for that you hadn’t thought of in the first place. An often overlooked method of finding scholarships is to actually take the initiative and ask around. Member of a club or association? See if they offer any scholarships. For example, your school’s alumni association may be inclined to help those from their alma mater. Family and friends are another great source of information as they are familiar with your interests and strengths.

Beware of scams or scammers that you may come across in your scholarship search. Some red flags are websites that “guarantee” you’ll receive a scholarship with their aid, have scholarships with no qualification requirements, or charge you any type of fee for their services. A true scholarship-giving organization will not expect you to pay money to receive an award except maybe in cases where you have to first apply for admission to a school and asked to pay their admission fee which can sometimes be waived or even refunded once they know you are apply for a scholarship.

How should I organize my scholarship search?

You’ll be working with a vast amount of information and it is essential to stay organized. By writing down important dates, deadlines, and contact information as you go, you avoid having to go back and re-gather these often tricky-to-locate little tidbits. There is no wrong or right format to use to stay organized, just be sure to choose something that works for you. Your tracking sheet or notebook should include sections for:

  • the name of the scholarship
  • Eligibility/application requirements
  • the preferred method of submission
  • contact information
  • deadlines
  • notes or any research that you have done on the scholarship or scholarship committee

Information is power but the right information empowers. Getting a scholarship is a dream come true for many and as such is quite competitive and stressful (depending on the type). Therefore you need a good grasp of what to expect as you thread this path. Good luck on finding your desired scholarship.

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