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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Columns

Apply to as many scholarships as you can — they’re here to help


Scholarships that aren’t big dollar signs still add up. | Sonny Singh/The Cougar

All students could use help paying for college, and scholarships are the gold standard of financial aid.

Mardell Maxwell, the executive director of admissions, said every UH student should be searching for scholarships.

Maxwell said his GPA was “middle of the road” in high school, but he went to college with more scholarship money than the valedictorian. He received many small-dollar scholarships from community organizations.

Maxwell said his experience is similar to UH students who bring in the most money; they have multiple small scholarships. Although some students may think that $500 scholarships aren’t worth applying for, they can add up.

Students should apply for many scholarships, but the applications should focus on quality over quantity, he said. It’s best not to list too many activities. Students should detail what impact an experience had on their education, college or community.

“Talk about the depth of experience you’ve had with two or three meaningful activities, clubs or experiences,” Maxwell said.

While scholarships are competitive, Maxwell said that there may not be many applicants when an essay is required.

Scholarships can be grouped into university, community and national levels.

Scholarships for current UH students are available from individual colleges. Advisors or financial aid counselors can help students find these.

Maxwell said students need to be creative in looking for local scholarships because they are usually not widely advertised. Applicants can look at the websites of local banks, credit unions, rotary clubs or other community organizations.

Websites like CollegeAnswer.com, FastWeb.com and Niche.com can help students find national scholarships that they qualify for and will send deadline reminders.

Maxwell said students need strong time management skills and should set aside time each week to devote to searching and applying for scholarships.

“You don’t know exactly what they’re looking for,” Maxwell said. “They may be looking for just what you bring to the table.”

Alejandro Dolores, a management information systems and entrepreneurship senior at UH, said he spent over 150 hours applying for more than 80 scholarships as a high school senior.

Dolores described running to the mailbox only to find the same, repeated sentences: “We regret that you were not selected…”

After dozens of discouraging rejections, Dolores received his first award letter, which kept him motivated.

Dolores has paid for his education with a mix of national, state, local and UH scholarships he received the summer before and during college. With scholarships, Dolores is able to focus on school, maintain a high GPA and be involved on campus. He doesn’t need to work to pay for school; he works to build career experience.

Dolores described himself as a “very basic” high school student, with average test scores and an unassuming leadership portfolio. Dolores said he thinks he received more because he spent an “obnoxious amount of time” applying for scholarships.

“I’m still in awe, but I don’t think it’s luck,” Dolores said. “It’s persistence.”

This is the only time in life, he said, where you can submit an application for money you don’t have to work for.

Dolores advises other students to be persistent and spend up to three hours a week applying for every scholarship they’re eligible for. Since scholarships often ask similar questions, it gives students a chance to refine their responses.

“An application should always be better than your last one,” Dolores said.

At first, a lack of confidence hurt my own search for scholarships. When I attended a community college, I was part of an honor society that offers many scholarships. Halfway through the application, I gave up. There were many incredibly smart people in that honor society. Competing against them, I thought I would never receive a scholarship.

When I finally applied for a scholarship, I won. Now multiple local, industry-specific scholarships cover my tuition. I keep a calendar of upcoming deadlines and apply for as many scholarships as I can.

Don’t allow anything to discourage you from applying for scholarships. We are all pursuing education and financial independence; scholarships are fuel for both.

Opinion columnist Alyssa Foley is a public relations junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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