Sunday, May 1, 2016

Scholarships are Your Best Friend

By Ackeem Nugent

As an officer for Alpha Theta Phi, I was given the opportunity to go to the 2016 Nerd nation convention and it was a rewarding experience. I met many international chapters and got to participate in many great educational forms. One of the educational forms that I attended focused on scholarships, where the moderators described the key characteristics of individuals who win scholarships.

During my year as the Alpha Theta Phi chapter President, one of the most frequently asked questions is “How can I get scholarships?” This question seems to be the capstone of why individuals join Phi Theta Kappa.  I decided to go to this forum to get a better understanding of what scholarship judges are looking for when individuals apply to such prestigious scholarships.  I also attended to learn some tips and tricks when applying to scholarships.

The workshop was phenomenal. Something that I loved about this forum was it was "one size fits all." The presenters didn’t just focus on Phi Theta Kappa partnered scholarships like Geico and Coke-a-Cola. They gave advice for applying to scholarships across the board. The design of the workshop consisted of a presentation called "The Anatomy of a Winning Scholarship Application."

The four key elements to winning a scholarship are "Education," "Passion," "Volunteer" and "Your foundation." The moderator elaborated on each of the key elements in scholarship applications. Something that stood out to me was volunteering. Through the panel discussion it became clear that stellar grades don’t necessary mean that you automatically win the scholarship. If you're not applying to merit based scholarships then these other factors like volunteerism and passion play an equal, or sometimes more important, role than GPA.  Volunteering is most important when applying to scholarships. Judges want to see who you are as a person and volunteering is one way to show that you are passionate about a particular cause. Volunteering also demonstrates you leadership abilities in some way. One of the advisors from the panel discussion said "Having stellar grades is great, but having a passion speaks volumes about who you are as a person.” The discussion proceeded to elaborate on what the judges really want to know about your true passions in life.

Although the presentation focused on what makes individuals stand out when applying to scholarships, they also talked about failures and how to overcome them. One of the judges of the coveted Jack Kent Cooke scholarship shared this piece of advice, “It's not a failure to not get a scholarship.” As a student, it can be discouraging when we put a lot effort into an application and don’t receive an award. A panelist mentioned that not receiving a scholarship is not a reflection of your worth or intellectual abilities. She encouraged us to inquire more about the scholarship we are applying for and then ask the judges what can we do to improve our application. It is the process of learning our mistakes and errors that make us better applicants.

As the forum came to an end, some final thoughts resonated with me. One of the advisors from a local community college said, “Find scholarships that best fit who you are as a person.” He also shared his philosophy of scholarships: Students should look at scholarship applications as a job and understand that the amount of time we invest” in the scholarship application counts as hours "on the job." For example, if you'er applying to a scholarship with an award amount of $1000, you should invest at least 8 hours of your time.  These investment hours include filling out the application, writing the essays, revisions, and time you use speaking to your mentor about possible improvements to your application. If you receive that scholarship, then you just got paid $125 an hour for your time! This could be one of you highest paying jobs! This particular bit of advice really did refine the way I look at scholarships.

In all, this was a great conference to attend and I learned many tips on applying for scholarships. I hope many of you take some of this information into consideration when filling out those tedious applications.

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