Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Yes. Scholarship providers realize that not every student enrolls in college immediately after high school. They also realize that students leave college before completing their degree, and re-enroll later, for a variety of reasons.
You will want to focus your scholarship search on applications that are open to non-traditional students, or adult and returning students, in addition to any others for which you meet the criteria.
Pay close attention because some are intended to help you gain access to college at the time of enrollment, and others are available only after you have enrolled in college or declared your major.
The best time to search and apply for scholarships is several months before you need the money. The majority of traditional scholarship providers have deadlines in the school year prior to when the scholarship will be awarded. Peak season is traditionally from January through April of each year.
However, this timeframe is expanding. As more promotional scholarships are offered throughout the year and as enrollment options are expanding to include more non-traditional schedules, you should plan ahead to maximize all possible opportunities.
- The application states that the scholarship must be used at a “fully accredited two- or four-year college or university.” Does that include University of Phoenix?
Scholarship providers ask students to write essays or answer questions about themselves for a variety of reasons, such as:
- To determine if the candidate can write at a college level
- To better understand the candidate and their background
- To find out about the candidate’s goals and aspirations for the future
- To offer the student a chance to explain their personal situation
You should view the writing portion of the application as an opportunity to showcase your writing skills and personalize the application, depending on what the provider requires.
Traditional scholarship providers offer scholarships primarily to increase student access to college or reward desirable traits such as merit, leadership, career choice, or talent. Promotional scholarship providers are primarily focused on increasing awareness of a product or an agenda, and use the scholarship as a marketing tool.
For example, a traditional scholarship might be based on your academic achievements and career goals. A promotional scholarship might be based on casting your vote for a new flavor of ice cream, thereby entering a contest to win a scholarship.
- I applied for a scholarship a few months ago but I haven’t heard back. How will I know if I’ve been selected to receive the scholarship?
If you have been selected as a scholarship recipient, chances are that the scholarship provider will contact you. They do not, however, necessarily contact everyone who applied.
If you’re unsure about your status, visit the sponsor’s website because they may have already announced the recipients or they might share specifics about the plan to notify the recipients. If you’re still unsure, you might want to send a brief email to the contact person listed, inquiring about the notification process.
Most scholarship providers expect your recommenders to be academic or professional contacts such as teachers, professors, advisors, or supervisors. Some will expand the pool of allowable recommenders to include people from your faith community (such as a pastor, rabbi or minister) or from your community connections (such as a volunteer coordinator at a place where you volunteered or an elected official in your town). In nearly every case, they would not allow family members or neighbors to submit recommendations.
My answer is two-fold: (1) if the content of the letter is excellent in terms of your qualifications, and the person’s high regard for you, but it has a few typos or rough grammar, I would still submit it. Scholarship judges know that writing skills vary greatly and it’s not your fault that the person didn’t proofread. (2) if the letter is too generic or mis-states the facts in any way, I would not use it. Students should approach more than one person for a letter of recommendation, if possible, so they can select the best one to include in the application.
Think of it this way: if you were going to give away $5,000 of your own money to a stranger, wouldn’t you want to know a little bit about them? Scholarship providers are making an investment in students. They need information on which to verify eligibility, compare applicants, and base their award decisions. If you feel that the request for information is intrusive, then you can choose not to apply or perhaps you can send a quick question asking why they need that information. Use your own judgment, too. If they want your social security number, place of birth, and date of birth, all on the same application, I would question the legitimacy of the request and be concerned about protecting my information. Legitimate scholarship providers understand your concerns about privacy, adhere to strict policies about how candidate information is used in the process, and they will answer your questions about the need for personal information.
We don’t recommend using the exact same essay for every application because not all applications are alike. Each scholarship application and the accompanying essay should be customized to reflect the nature of the criteria and what was asked of you. If you have two applications and one is based solely on merit and the other is based on leadership, you will have two very different essays. We absolutely support a streamlined process where perhaps you could use the same body of an essay if the topics are similar but you should change the introduction and closing to more closely match each scholarship. So many students just cut and paste the same information, that if you spend time customizing your applications, you might be more successful.
- I found someone online that offered to write my scholarship essay for $50. Should I do it? I’m really crunched for time and the deadline is coming up
No. It is unethical to submit any work that was not originally created by you. It is okay, and highly recommended, that you ask someone else to critique your work and give you feedback on format, grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.
Most essay questions fall into three main categories as follows: questions about your past, questions about your future, and questions about current events or specific topics. Here are samples from each category:
- Explain a challenge that you overcame in the past five years and how it impacted your life.
- How have your family and friends contributed to the person you are today?
- Who is your role model and why?
- What are your goals after your earn your degree?
- How will you give back to the community after you graduate?
- If you are awarded the scholarship, what affect will it have on your life?
Current event/specific topics
- Think about one global issue such as global warming, financial crises, etc. What is your position on the issue?
- If you could be mayor of your town or city, what issues would be your top priorities and why?
- Choose a topic that you are passionate about and write a persuasive essay defending your position.
- Is it necessary to write a thank you letter to people who wrote a letter of recommendation for your scholarship application?
Regardless of whether or not the scholarship provider selects you as the scholarship recipient, you should thank the people who helped you in the process. Depending on your relationship with the recommender, you may choose to thank them informally, through email, or you might want to hand-write or type a thank you note. This gesture of gratitude will help you stand out compared to other students, and will continue to reinforce your relationship with the recommender, who you might call on in the future if you need another recommendation.
While many scholarships are offered in conjunction with specific careers, you should not limit your scholarship search to only your preferred career. For instance, if you want to become an hotel manager, you should search for scholarships related to that career but you should also search for scholarships based on other traits such as your family background, income level, special talents or skills, where you live, hobbies, memberships, etc.
- A lot of these applications ask for work experience, documentation of volunteer hours and past accomplishments, but I’ve been out of school for twenty years. How far back should I go to pull this information?
Most applications, whether they are online or paper, will have a designated space in which to enter your information. You probably want to start with the most recent information first and work backward from there. Something you did ten years ago might not be applicable anymore, but if it’s relevant to the scholarship, such as a requirement of graduating from a specific high school, or being a member of a particular organization, then make sure you list it. If it’s not really relative to the specific criteria, you can try summarizing the older experiences such as, “Administrative Assistant, various companies, 1995 – 1999.” When in doubt, ask the scholarship provider for guidance.
You should submit as many applications as you can to earn the amount of money you need for college. If you are not aware, chances are that you will not be chosen for all of them. Realistically, if you submit ten applications and you are awarded one scholarship, you should consider yourself lucky because every single dollar you win is one less dollar you owe. Another consideration is how much time you can devote to applying for scholarships. It is better to submit a few high quality, compelling applications instead of several lower quality applications.
If you want to be considered as a nominee for a scholarship, your best chances are to invest in yourself long before the nomination process. The types of scholarships that rely on nominations are usually highly competitive. You want to become, and position yourself, as a viable candidate based on the criteria. People who are in a position to make nominations will often scan the pool of potential students or ask other peers for recommendations. Maybe you don’t know the person who has the power to submit the nominations but maybe you know someone in their circle of influence and you can share your personal profile with them. Otherwise, you can approach the nominator directly, tell them that you’d like to be considered and present your case for why you deserve the nomination.
- I keep getting emails from a company that claims they can get me a list of guaranteed scholarships if I pay them a fee. Should I do it?
No. You should never pay any person or any company for a list of scholarships. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), this is usually the sign of a scam. The company may send you a list of scholarships, but it is most likely the same list they are sending to everyone. Lastly, a company like this cannot guarantee that you will win because they are not in charge of the scholarship providers or the judging process used by those providers. You can report these companies to the FTC online.
- I received a scholarship from a local organization and they gave me a check, which I cashed. Am I required to report that to the college?
Yes! It is a federal requirement that you report all scholarships to your college. Financial aid is dispensed based on the cost of attendance, the expected family contribution, and the remaining need. If you now have more money than you originally reported to the school, then their financial aid office needs to adjust your financial aid package.
It depends. Every scholarship has different stipulations about how the funds can be expended. Scholarships awarded directly from the college are nearly always allocated to tuition first. Read the fine print. Some scholarships can be used to pay for room, board, books, transportation and other college expenses. It is your responsibility to fully understand eligible expenses. For example, all scholarships awarded by University of Phoenix will be applied toward tuition and online course materials fees.