Tips and Myths
Scholarship Scam Warnings
Students are constantly sent information by companies who say will provide you with scholarship opportunities for a fee. We do not encourage any students to pay for this information as we provide the same information to you for free. If you would like to consider one of these companies, please be sure to first check with the Better Business Bureau to ensure they are a legitimate company at El Paso Better Business Bureau or Better Business Bureau.
What Do Committees Look For?
There are no common items that every member of all committees look for. However, there are some items that the majority of committee members look for when evaluating a scholarship application.
The following are a list of those items.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, most committee members will show more favor toward an application that is presented in a more clear and concise manner. This does not mean that handwritten essay are forbidden, but it does mean that the majority of reviewers would prefer a typed essay. All paperwork should be consistent in size to the extent possible. All documentation that is submitted should have the applicant’s name and/or ID number clearly indicated on the paperwork.
Belonging to a social or academic organization is one thing, but attaining success within the organization shows distinction. That is, it is good to belong to the track team but better to win city or state honors on the track team. It is good to belong to the National Honor Society but better to serve as president to treasurer of the NHS.
The applicant should show a gradual progression in all things. There should be a trend of getting better in all areas. If a student is already number one in his/her class or has a 4.0, then they should remain consistent. Otherwise, committees would expect the candidate to show improvement from the freshman year to the senior year.
There is no specific accomplishment that can fulfill this category. It is exhibited in different areas. Committees look for the applicant who does something extra—something that is not achievement oriented yet reflects their own values, i.e. doing volunteer work at the local hospital, holding down a part time job, participating in a neighborhood clean-up campaign, helping out a local nursing home, tutoring, etc.
High standards/determinationReflected in grades, test scores, recognition of others as mentioned in letters of recommendation, career and life goals as reflected in essays and overcoming adversity (personal, economic, social) in the past.
This can be reflected in many arenas. The format and content of some essays reflect individuality. This is often reflected in humorous essays. Working for all four years of high school shows independence. Creating or leading an organization shows initiative and independence. Individuality and creativity are often reflected in the applicant’s style in his/her application.
How Do Students Enhance Their Chances?
An applicant can do many things to enhance his or her chances for receiving a scholarship.Here are some of the most common:
- Apply early.
- Submit a complete application that is easy to read and well organized.
- Do not be redundant in essays. If the application itself requests that you list your achievements and accomplishments, do not restate those same items in the context of the essay unless you feel that additional information is needed.
- Name association. It is a good idea to contact the school/scholarship committee either in person or over the phone or by e-mail at least once. Most students will do this during their summer orientation visit. Committee members tend to recall the names of individuals who take the time to visit or write letters. Name recognition is important.
- Slingshot effect. There is a fine line between name recognition and name repetition. A constant badgering of individuals in writing or by phone may have a slingshot effect on an applicant’s chance of receiving an award (this includes parents). For those applicants who are borderline recipients, this difference is a risk they should not take. An applicant should always follow their application closely. Three to four contacts would be the average for most individuals.
- Comparative shopping. Most scholarship committees will not counter-offer or outbid the offer you have received at another school. Keep in mind that if you were already considered a great student, in relation to others at that school, then you would have already been contacted. Schools differ in the criteria they use for scholarships consideration. Therefore the receipt of a $10,000 scholarship at one school would not mean an equal scholarship at other schools at which you have applied. Also, early notification tends to go out from schools that competitively recruit scholars. Schools that do not historically recruit scholars usually do not make offers as early as those that do.
- Stand out in a crowd. What makes a student’s application different from the other 5,000 that have been submitted? Why is your phone call any different from those of the other 100 callers? Do something that will make your application stand out. Wear something unique during your visits to campus. Individuality is the key.
- Do you need to apply for financial aid in order to help your scholarship chances? It won’t hurt. Some scholarships are need-based and some are not. Some scholarships look at both academics and need, and still others use financial need as a tiebreaker. In no situation will the application for financial aid hurt your chances at receiving a scholarship. However, failure to complete a financial aid application where financial where financial need is considered is definitely a detriment.
Be Realistic This is probably the most difficult thing to learn. It is a natural tendency for parents to think of their sons and daughters as the best. They tend to overlook achievement in others and not give credit where it is due. For example, parents who consider their son or daughter to be the best may believe that if they don’t receive a scholarship then it must be due to some oversight on a committee’s part.
Committee members do realize that there is a great disparity in academic achievement across the state. That is, a valedictorian at once school could score 1000 on the SAT, while the same SAT score at another school would not even place the student in the top 50 scores. With this in mind, some schools have developed a rating system that scores students in relation to others from their high school and region. This allows the evaluation process to be more equitable. However, it is still important for students and their parents to realize that competition does exist.
It is important to realize that most committees do not use high school GPA as a major determinant in evaluating scholarship potential. SAT/ACT scores and class rank are the main factors used in evaluating scholarship potential, followed by factors such as achievement, extracurricular activities, work/volunteer history, writing quality and few others, not necessarily in that order. The reason that the high school GPA tends to be overlooked is that most committees do not want to get into the comparative nature of GPAs. The variations in scoring nationwide and the variation in coursework make GPAs only average indicators of success. Statistics indicate that a student’s success in college is more closely linked to high school rank than any other factor.
Common Scholarship Myths
Unclaimed Aid Myth
The myth that millions of dollars go unspent each year is based on misinformation. A study conducted by the national institute of Work and Learning indicated that education benefits proved by employers for their employees nationwide totaled approximately $7 billion. This was calculated on the assumption that every eligible employee and their dependent children would take advantage of this educational benefit. Needless to say, not every employee does. As a result, millions of potential benefits go unused. However, these dollars cannot be categorized as unclaimed because they are not available to the general public.
One moderately accurate reflection of the unclaimed aid myth exists in those situations where colleges administer a scholarship that has very selective criteria. Inevitably, the committee is unable to locate anyone who meets the criteria and as a result the funds go unspent. But once again, those funds are not unclaimed. There is simply no one who meets the eligibility criteria.
The only other semblance of unclaimed aid being true is those instances where a scholarship is not awarded due to poor publicity. Scholarships that are not publicized tend to be small scholarships and the amount of unclaimed funds is really a result of poor administration rather than lack of effort on the part of the applicants.
The High Success Rate
Some scholarship search services advertise extremely high success rates. They would like you to believe that over 90% of their users receive some scholarship funding. In reality, over 90% of their users are given a list of scholarships. College surveys conducted throughout the years have indicated that the real success rate of the majority of scholarship search services is about 1%. This is also known as the guaranteed winner myth. There is no such thing as a guaranteed winner. Scholarships are not given to applicants just for being alive. Scholarships are only for high achievers.
Contrary to public perception not all scholarships are awarded based on academic achievement alone. The majority of scholarship committees evaluate a candidate on many criteria, of which academic achievement is one. Academic achievement is one of the major criteria for evaluation. However, other non-academic factors are just as critical in some instances. Some of these non-academic factors include financial need, household size, course of study, and still other factors may include hometown and other obscure facts.
It’s who you know not what you know
Everyone has heard the stores of scholarships being given to individuals because of who they know. They had connections, they’re friends of the family, etc. It is quite possible that this has happened before, but if it does happen, it is so infrequent that it is not documented as a trend. Scholarship success is definitely attributed to what you know, to your achievements, and to your potential more than any other factor.
The more scholarships I receive, the less need-based financial aid I’ll receive
This is partly true. All resources must be accounted for when determining a student’s eligibility for need-based financial aid. As a result, the more resources you have the less eligibility for certain types of aid you may have. However, it must be pointed out that if a student’s eligibility is high enough, then the receipt of a scholarship would not impact any of their need-based financial aid eligibility. This is reviewed on a case by case basis and no blanket policy exists. Students are encouraged to apply for federal financial aid as well as scholarships.
Minorities have a better chance at receiving a scholarship
The basic premise underlying this belief is that there are some scholarships specifically set aside for ethnic minorities. In the 5-state region that includes Texas, this is no longer true. All applicants are considered equal for scholarships. As a result of the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling on the Hopwood case, race-based scholarships are no longer considered legal in the five state region (Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico). But what about the states outside of the 5-state region? The universities in those states are free to offer scholarships to individuals from specific ethnic backgrounds. However, the existence of scholarships which have exclusive eligibility criteria. (Ex: the existence of scholarships for tall people does not imply that all people have a better chance at receiving scholarships).