The most common question I get around here is also the toughest to answer. It’s some variation of this: “I seem to be doing everything right, but I’m not winning any scholarships. Why?”
It’s hard to answer because, without access to each person’s scholarship application materials, it’s hard to say what kind of mistakes he/she may have made when applying (although I have written a book about some common scholarship mistakes). On top of that, if there are essays involved in a scholarship, those are judged very subjectively. You may write an immaculate essay and still not win because someone else’s essay may have pleased the judges even more.
But without going into too much detail about a very long and detailed subject, let’s hear Gail out first:
What is wrong with me?
Gail gets right down to business. I like it.
I am a non traditional student. I am 41 and decided due to my age a science degree was my best bet since I could make good money right out of college and would not need years to work my way up to something. I decided to do geology and add chemistry courses to be able to do geochemistry. I may not complete the chemistry degree,but I am sure of the geology degree and I plan on going right into a MS program to improve my income, what’s 2 more years for 15,000 more a year, right?
Well, it’s $30,000 plus interest, so be sure to research whether you can expect enough of a salary increase with the M.S. to offset the $40-odd thousand you’ll be paying over the life of the loan. Maybe it will pay off just fine, but definitely research it, because it’d be a costly assumption if it’s incorrect.
Well I am not sure what to do to make myself stick out more for scholarships. I think my age hurts me.
I can’t rule it out, but I would just say that, generally speaking, I think the majority of scholarship committees do not discriminate against older students.
Age discrimination does exist on scholarship committees, though, and it goes both ways. Some think it isn’t fair for traditional (younger) college students to have to compete for money with non-traditionals who have had, in some cases, a couple of decades worth of time to accumulate experience of all types. This type of discriminator thinks: “Why should these kids, who have worked their tails off in every possible way at a young age, now lose scholarship money to older students who are waltzing back to school after 10 or 20 years and are just now figuring out that college is a good idea?”
Now, the other type of discriminator — the anti-traditional student — thinks, “Why should I waste money writing a check to a kid — a kid who’s probably going to change his mind 10 times before he figures out what he wants to do with his life, if he even finishes college at all (no guarantees there) — when I can give it to an older, more mature and experienced student who appreciates the money a hell of a lot more than some 19-year-old?”
And then the anti-nontraditional answers with the fact that scholarships are investments, and that it makes more sense to invest in younger people, simply because you’re going to get more lifelong mileage out of a 20-year-old than you will a 45-year-old.
I’ve heard all these arguments with my own ears. I wouldn’t say they’re always discussed during winner selection, but it’s not rare, either. Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it either way. If you’re an older student, your application should go the extra mile to assure the committee (whether it’s true or not) that you’re absolutely dedicated to putting long years into your field. If you’re a younger student, it’s the same advice — assure the committee (whether it’s true or not) that you’re absolutely dedicated to your chosen field and look to make a long career out of it.
Will those assurances allay the misgivings of those who are inclined to discount you from the beginning? Not always, no. But it’s your best shot.
At community college I got awards (recipient for community service awards, recognition as tutor and student gov rep, all USA academic team), I held office positions in the honor society and held a position in student government, I was nominated for officer of the year, and I graduated highest honors from our honors program (honor’s diploma), yet I constantly get turned down for scholarships. I can fill pages of my work, activities, honors and awards.
These are all fine things and you should be proud of them, no doubt. But remember, to win a scholarship you have to be better than — well, if there’s only one scholarship, you have to be better than every single other person applying. I’ll give you my own personal assessment of your sketch of your achievements, and I’ll give it to you as an experienced scholarship judge:
Graduating with highest honors means the most to me of what you’ve listed. It means you got the best grades possible in your academic work, which is important. On the other hand, clubs (student government, honor society officer positions, etc.), carry very little weight with me. Nothing wrong with doing them, mind you, but being an officer in or member of a club doesn’t tell me anything about what you actually accomplished there. If you did outstanding things in those clubs that are noteworthy, then by all means, include and explain them; however, lacking that, clubs don’t mean a lot to me, the scholarship judge, when I’m narrowing the field.
What more can a student do…club, officer position, campus activities, community service, peer tutor, high academic performances (in classes like calc 1 through 3, physics, chemistry, computer programming, windows server, advanced operating systems, trig, precalc, anthropology)
The academics are legit and impressive, but again, it’s going to be difficult to convince a scholarship committee that you alone are worthy of their monetary investment based on things like student government involvement and campus activities.
Community service is also good, but it’s almost expected on an application nowadays, so your description of the volunteer work you did needs to be specific and compelling. To use one of my favorite examples, don’t say that you worked a soup kitchen once a week for two years; do the math and figure out a rough estimate of how many meals you served. Then say that you “served over 12,000 meals to homeless people in Port St. Lucie.” Really try and drive home the impact you’ve made with your service.
One critical thing you haven’t mentioned at all is any type of internships or professional work related to your geology and/or chemistry major — even if it’s part-time. It’s important to understand that scholarship committees are looking at you as a monetary investment, and if you’re choosing to spend a lot of time on activities that are unrelated to your career (student government, honor society, etc.), then you do so at your peril. Remember, there just has to be one student out there who’s out-working you in order to lose that scholarship.
Let me make a sports analogy here: If you were a basketball prospect hoping to get drafted, you’d make potential coaches and general managers very happy if you were spending your free time working on the weaker areas of your game, trying to bring them up in order to excel at the next level. If you were spending your free time on other stuff, then you’d be planting doubt in their minds. Same way with scholarship committees — we want our No. 1 pick to be as much of a sure thing as possible.
these are not your simple classes like history where all you have to do is read the book and answer questions on a test based on that reading. I easily get A’s in those type of classes, all you have to do is read…open the book.
I wouldn’t go trumpeting that point of view anywhere else — you never know when a history professor, or even a history major, might be one of your scholarship judges, and you’re probably not going to get far with any of them by insinuating that all you need is basic literacy to ace a history degree.
I got mostly A’s some B’s and 1 C. I don’t get it. I thought I did everything right.
Those are good grades, but again, understand that there are applicants out there with no C’s at all, and even a handful with no B’s, either. If someone has the drop on you in terms of academics, you have to make it up elsewhere in your application materials if you want to win that scholarship.
What is wrong with my profile? Is it my age? I have no resources and really could use some help here. What’s wrong with me?
Well, judging only from the sketch you’ve given me here, I’d say the biggest hole in your resume is the professional experience part. As a scholarship judge, I’d find it relatively easy to eliminate you from consideration in the latter stages of narrowing the applicants, and that’s due to the lack of any time spent in professional-type activities like internships or jobs, as I mentioned above. Those carry lots of weight.
And I can’t finish up without saying that there are tons of scholarships out there, and they all have different requirements. They all give different weight to grades, community service, work experience, and essays.
There are more scholarships available than any student can apply for, so choose carefully the ones you apply for. If you’re a weak writer, for example, I’d lay off the essay scholarships. If you’ve got a weak GPA, then you’ve got a better shot at scholarships that don’t ask for GPA, so focus on those. And so on.
That’s my best advice for the day. What do you guys think — ever been screwed over for a scholarship because of your age? Is it fair to give the edge to either older or younger students? Let us know in the comments below.