How to Win a Scholarship: Quick Tips to Help Finance Your Education
The flip of the calendar to 2016 shows some important deadlines are looming in the next weeks and months: the application due dates for many military-affiliated scholarships. If you are a military spouse pursuing a degree or certification, or if you are sending a child off to college or technical school, it is more important than ever to take advantage of these programs. Education costs continue to rise while military pay has remained virtually stagnant. Scholarship awards can be a way to bridge this gap and ease the financial burden continuing education may place on your family budget.
But how can you be one of the lucky scholarship winners? Who better to give you the keys to success than two military scholarship coordinators: Allie Jones, spouse education and professional support program manager for the National Military Family Association (NMFA), and Col. (Ret.) Alice Demarais, chairperson of the Army Women’s Foundation Legacy Scholarship Committee. Both shared some easy-to-follow tips to help you or your child capture those scholarship dollars:
1. The first step is applying and applying for as many scholarships as you can, Jones said. “Every little bit helps,” she said, “so look at spouse clubs in your area, nonprofit programs and any offered through your school.” Demarais agreed with this strategy and added, “All they can say is ‘no.’ Some resource sites are included at the end of this article to help you start your search.
2. Consider who will be judging your application and your competition. “If you are applying for a general scholarship offered by your school or other organization, play up your military life experience to help you stand out,” Jones said. For military-related scholarships, she noted that all your competition will be telling the same stories of PCSing, deployments, or transition hardships. “Focus on what makes you different and what makes you stand out—don’t tell your service member’s story,” Jones said. “One applicant who comes to mind gave us a brief description of her military life but also talked about how she was the first person to go to school in her family and what that meant. It stood out in the judges’ minds.”
3. Organization can help. Whether it is a folder on your hard drive, an accordion file on your desk or both, Jones recommended being organized and collecting all the needed paperwork in one place for quick reference. “Give yourself time, work ahead, look at the deadlines,” she said. “It can be overwhelming, but give each application its own time. Try to show effort on each application.” Your scholarship file should include transcripts or latest academic report; a list of people for references with contact information; resume; proof of your military affiliation such as a current LES or DD 214; and previous applications you’ve completed. Post a schedule sheet of each scholarship and its deadline at your work space.
4. Write a winning essay by first reading carefully to see what the organization wants you to address, Demarais said. “Be sure you write about all these items in your essay,” she said. “It’s like baking a cake; if you leave an ingredient out it will taste bad. If you leave something out of the essay, it could affect your outcome.” If asked why the organization should pick you, Demarais said mentioning financial need or that you’re the first to go to college in your family is OK. “And a little humor can go a long way to make yourself stand out. It’s OK to brag, but be truthful; help the judges make a connection with your story,” she said. Jones added, “I think the applications and essays that really stand out are the ones that are positive. Too many applicants get wrapped up in their personal struggles, but when you talk about how you’ve moved past the difficulties, those are the essays that shine,” she said. Jones also said short-answer questions should get the same careful treatment as your essay.
5. Who is the best person to sell YOU? It’s an important question to answer when it comes to letters of recommendation or reference requests, Jones and Demarais said. Demarais noted that judging committees often look at academic achievement and potential, so pick someone from the school who’s known you for a while, such as an adviser, professor or dean. Jones said you can also turn to supervisors or bosses, co-workers, mentors and other adults in your life. To help your reference-writer, both women recommended providing information about the scholarship you are applying for, your resume, and even a letter template outlining your qualities and experience. Be sure to include information on deadlines and where to send the recommendation. “And it is always best to request a recommendation in person or by formal email, highlighting why you chose them—because of their leadership, experience or a specific quality you admire—to write the letter,” Jones said.
6. Sleep on it. If you have the time, don’t click “send” as soon as you’ve completed the application, Jones said. “If you are able to work on the application and essay, saving as you go, don’t rush to complete it,” she said. “Give yourself time to go back and check all the information you’ve provided and reread your essay.” She recommended writing your essay or question answers as Word documents to use as a template for all your applications. That way you can use spell check and grammar tools to be sure everything is correct. “You want your application to be as close to perfect as far as grammar and spelling; the process is so competitive and every little thing matters,” Jones said.
You can put the keys to application success to work with the help of these “find-a-scholarship” resources:
• The community resources-internet resources tab on the AUSA Family Readiness page.
• Military Officers Association of America's education site for scholarship information.
You should also put these scholarship programs at the top of your “applying-to” list:
• NMFA's Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarships are awarded to spouses of all uniformed services members: active duty, Guard and Reserve, retirees or survivors. The deadline is Jan. 31.
• The Army Nurse Corps Association's scholarship is open to students currently enrolled in an accredited baccalaureate or advanced degree program in nursing, nurse anesthesia, or related health-care field who are serving or have previously served in in the U.S. Army, Guard or Reserve; are not currently receiving funding through an ROTC scholarship or full GI Bill benefits or other related source; have received an honorable discharge; or nursing or anesthesia students whose parent(s), spouse, or child(ren) is serving or has served in a component of the U.S. Army.