How to: Scholarships

Have questions about the financial aid process? Learn about it from a senior who is living it now.

Robert Landing, Editor

Picture this. It’s senior year of high school and you are a bright eyed college prospect waiting to hear back from the colleges that you’ve applied to. Yes it is exciting, but there will always one nagging thought in the back of your mind, How will I pay for college? The thought of college debt is scary, and it can prevent some students from pursuing their dreams. Yes, loans can be tricky and taking out way too many can be devastating to any young American in college. While you might have to take out a few to cover the cost of school, there other ways to lower the financial burden when it comes to their education and college experience. How? With the very thing every college hopeful dreams of accruing-  Scholarships! But what are scholarships exactly? And how do you get them?

In short, scholarships FREE money to go to school that you will never have to repay. Most scholarships separate into two categories, merit based and need based. Merit scholarships are based on academic performance, with grades and national test scores taken into consideration. Need based scholarships are awarded based on a students financial need, determined by your parents’ income, and what money colleges have available to help reduce the financial burden on families.

Over the last several months, I have been awarded both need based and merit based scholarships that, when added up, will pay for my entire college experience. That means my tuition, room & board, textbooks, etc. are all paid for. However, it hasn’t been easy road to get to that point. I faced several challenges along the way and learned a lot about the college admissions process and why students might get discouraged and want to give up before even setting foot on a college campus. The biggest lesson I learned is this – DON’T GIVE UP.

Often, it is incredibly hard for middle-class families like mine to pay for college because we make enough to live and be comfortable but not enough to pay for college. This was my first challenge with the financial aid process. It was frustrating and took lots of time to sort through, but in the end it was worth it.

Getting my need based scholarship was the hardest uphill battle that I’ve ever had to go through. When I was admitted to ASU, I knew that I would automatically be placed under review to see if I would be rewarded the President Barack Obama Scholars Program – a scholarship program for in-state colleges awarded to students with financial need. Unfortunately, I was selected for verification, meaning that I would need to provide additional documentation to support my Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which I had filled out with my parents’ tax documents months before. I submitted my verification, and once I did that, I thought I would be in the clear. However, that was not the case.

There were so many fixes that I had to make to my documents and FAFSA. It took weeks to sort out, and I started to get discouraged. After numerous calls with my prospective school’s financial aid office, it looked like I would be fine and finally awarded the scholarship I worked so hard for.  However, they told me that I would not be offered the Obama Scholarship because I did not meet “assured admissions” requirements. I was very confused because, obviously, I met them due to me being accepted to the college. I felt defeated. After weeks of submitting and resubmitting documentation, I was frustrated and tired. I could have easily given up and resolved to take out loans. But I didn’t.

Instead, I researched what assured admissions and found that I met every single quota I needed to meet them and made sure to provide those documents so that I could get my well deserved scholarship. Eventually, they reviewed my profile and awarded me my scholarship after a long hard fought battle. It was incredibly tiring and I was ready to throw in the towel along the way, but one thing I knew is that I could never give up for myself. No one else would fight for me, so I knew that I had to be the one to take matters into my own hands. I kept pushing through, and it paid off.

Now, my merit-based scholarship was a very different process. It has been extremely rigorous yet rewarding process that I worked hard for. Like any major merit scholarship, it all starts off with the application process. Students usually have to answer questions such as, What school do you go to? How many people live in your household? What college are you planning on going to? These will almost always be asked of you. The scholarship that I applied for was the Dorrance Scholarship Program, a scholarship for first generation college students in Arizona. Once I sent the application in, I had to wait and see if I would be selected as a semi-finalist. Waiting is scary because as a student, I knew my capabilities and now I had to hope that others would see it too.

When I got the email that I made it into semi-finals, the scholarship foundation laid out what I had to do next. They told me that I had to write four mini essays and one major essay, then submit them for review in order to make it into finals. Writing the essays was harder because the questions were incredibly thought provoking and open for interpretation, and I began to worry. What if this is wrong? Will they like me? What if they like someone else’s essay over mine? My brain raced. Finally, I received confirmation that I was a finalist.

The last step in the process was an interview in front of a panel of Dorrance representatives. I had so much anxiety leading up to the interview because I knew how hard everyone worked to get there and the decisions were going to be final after that. I worried and cried so much because I felt as though I wouldn’t be good enough. But I realized that I made it that far for a reason and now I had one more step to face head on.

Once I was in the building, I was at peace because I knew that all my anxiety would vanish whether I got the scholarship or not. Before the actual interview, I, alongside two other candidates, were prepped in a room where two Dorrance scholars prepared us for the actual interview. Once they were done, I was called first to go and interview with the panel. The panel consisted of six people who were all there to ask me questions. They asked me about my future and what I looked forward to most regarding the scholarship. I answered the questions as best as I could. I did my best to remain myself the whole time and to show them why I deserved the award. Once I was done, I thanked the panel and walked out proudly of what I did. I knew that I had made myself proud.

After my interview, I waited anxiously for news. I soon found out  – the next day – that I had been chosen and awarded the scholarship. I cried with overwhelming relief and shock of everything I accomplished. Overall, the process took four long months. Even though it may have taken time and effort, college attainment is very possible.

Money should never be the reason students do not go to college. People, groups, and institutions are all out there waiting to give students money to go to college. We, as students, just have to go out and find them. If you want it, make it happen.

Always remember – do not fear rejection because it happens and that the answer is always no unless you ask.

Tips I learned along the way:

*Shoot for smaller unknown scholarships because few people apply for them which increases the likelihood of you earning that scholarship.

*Private schools usually offer a lot of aid, especially toward minority students. Just keep in mind that they are more expensive than public schools.

*If you feel like you truly deserve a scholarship, always keep fighting for it. Provide proof, call who you need to, wait through the long phone times, drive to the institution, or ask for reconsideration. Do what you need to because it’s your money and you deserve it. Until the answer is a hard no, keep going. You may get discouraged, but remember that your resilience will all be worth it once school finally gets paid for you. DON’T GIVE UP.

Want money for school? Start looking now. Check out the resources below: