When students and parents first start searching for educational scholarships online, they’re often bewildered. As a scholarship advisor, I am often approached with questions like: “So, what’s the trick?” I wish I had the keys to a simpler, more organized version of the internet, but the truth is, I don’t.
Blame it on the internet
The internet is messy, and scholarships are disorganized. Here’s why:
Let’s imagine that you’ve become a multi-millionaire. You’ve gotten through college, taken on your first through fourth jobs, and successfully pursued your personal and professional dreams to the fullest. Somehow you’ve reached the immense privilege of becoming financially secure for the rest of your days. So, you decide that you’d like to set aside some of your wealth and give it to someone who is not quite as far along on their own journey.
Questions donors must answer when giving away funds
There are some very important questions you have to answer before you can give your money away:
- How would you decide what kind of people, achievements, and/or future goals deserve to be considered for your generous gift?
- Where would you store your funds? Would you distribute them yourself? Or partner with a larger institution, like a university or nonprofit? What kind of annual investment budget and schedule would you use to make sure your funds are properly managed and protected?
- Once you’ve identified or articulated your ideal candidates, stored your funds in partnership with an organization, and understood the annual timeline of your endowment, how would you get the word out to the right audience?
There isn’t a manual for how to give your money away to a student in the U.S., so every potential donor navigates these three aspects of the process differently.
Given every individual donor’s answers to question #1, you might understand why there are so many different people, achievements, and goals that are rewarded with scholarships. Generous people put a lot of time and thought into developing the “who” and “why” of their donations, and they often make decisions based on personal experiences that none of us can predict.
Diversity of donors = a confusing network for scholarship seekers to navigate
The main point here is that people give their money away to college students for very personal reasons. There is no single reason or mission that overrules the others when it comes to this generous instinct. That motivational diversity means that every individual who seeks out scholarships must research and develop their own perfect list of available opportunities.
Frankly, I think generating such a list is the hardest part of the process, and I spend a lot of my time explaining that there are no shortcuts when it comes to putting that list together. Even if you are tempted to point fingers and say it’s easier for certain communities, I guarantee you that this process is hard for everyone, regardless of family income, racial background, or personal situation.
Depending on how each donor addresses the issues in question #2, deadlines and payout dates vary dramatically throughout the fiscal year. So, yes, there are deadlines all year-round. Given how difficult it is to transfer funds from one account to another, you should assume that it could take 6 to 12 months from date of application submission to date of any resulting payments. So, any time that you spend on scholarship applications is going to be a long-term investment. It is not wise to apply for scholarships with the expectation of a quick turnaround.
And finally, the relative ease or difficulty with which you are able to find scholarship announcements in the first place can be explained by the fact that most donors do not spend additional money to get the word out to their desired audience. People who wish to give their money away expect eligible candidates to find their website, Facebook page, or institutional center, and navigate available instructions to submit applications.
The diversity of reasoning that goes into giving money away creates a confusing network of opportunities for students to sift through on the internet. Furthermore, the many inconsistent algorithmic interpretations of language on internet search engines and databases make this process even harder.
But that’s why I started this blog post by asking you to imagine that you are the one giving the money away. Don’t imagine that the person at the other end of this transaction is some stranger with whom you cannot relate, a caricature of a rich person who has too much money to know what to do with. It is more likely that the person who has decided to give their money away shares something in common with you. You just need to find that point of intersection.
How to start sifting through scholarship opportunities
If you feel lost within all of the different opportunities that you encounter, take a deep breath and re-center yourself. Yes, it’s a messy process, but just remember that you are searching for scholarships that have a strong resonance with you as an individual. You want to make a meaningful connection, so when things stop feeling meaningful either take a break from the search or reassess your strategy. Are you really looking for opportunities that you care about?
Overall, it’s important to understand why the scholarship world is so disorganized and decentralized because you will inevitably encounter frustrating moments in your search and application processes. In these moments, should you despair and give up? Is every sticky situation just another indication that you are doomed to mountains of student debt? Should you forego the expensive, dream program you were just accepted to?
No. Don’t give up.
Remind yourself that there is a person on the other end of every scholarship application process who went through an equally complicated process of setting aside and protecting a scholarship fund. Re-center your thought processes around yourself, and make sure that you are conducting strategic scholarship searches.
Once you’ve understood that there are some clear reasons for the confusing network of opportunities, I hope that you embrace the challenge and generate effective scholarship searches for yourself.
I have built most of my counseling tools and strategies with the mindset that the scholarship search is about you, the student. As you navigate the many opportunities that are out there, remember that you are looking for opportunities, mission statements, organizations, and individuals that reflect specific pieces of yourself.
If you haven’t already mapped out the most important aspects of yourself, make sure you do that before you conduct any more searches!
Do you need help searching for, identifying, and applying to scholarship opportunities that will contribute to your educational funding? Do you need help with other aspects of the application process? Reach out to the expert advisors at Accepted for more information on how we can help transform your academic dreams into a reality.
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