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Introductions: Giving Your Scholarship Essay a Solid Start

Sep 11, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Unless you're lucky enough to happen across an extremely obscure and unusual scholarship with only one or two qualified applicants, you are going to have to face some competition to receive a scholarship award. In the case of essay scholarships that are easy to enter or that come with a substantial award, you may be facing quite a lot of competition. In fact, with many scholarship competitions, you may be up against so much competition that there's no guarantee a reviewer will even have time to completely read and digest each scholarship essay submitted. This makes your essay's introduction vitally important.

The first sentence of your scholarship application is your first, best and possibly only chance to capture your reader's attention. To have the best chance at winning scholarships, you need to know how to start your essay off right. The following are some tips to help you craft an eye-catching introduction that gets your foot in the door and gets your application the attention it deserves.

Put it in your own words. While starting with a quote is a common technique in speaking and some writing, it may not work best in a scholarship application essay. Leading with a quote shows the reviewer that you know how to read, but it doesn't tell much else about you or your ideas. Use your own words to begin, and if a quote supports or enhances your argument, consider bringing it in later in the essay.

Avoid clichés and tired phrases. One of your essay's goals should be to distinguish you from the competition, and it won't do this if it rehashes the same overused expressions that everyone else employs. Keep in mind that the scholarship reviewer will be reading hundreds or even thousands of applications. What seems clever or cute the first time doesn't seem that way after the 50th or 100th iteration. A good rule to follow is that if a phrase belongs on a bumper sticker or in an e-mail from your mom, it likely does not belong in your scholarship essay.

Establish a personal connection. If your experience gives you a unique perspective on the essay's topic, show your reader this. Most people are suckers for personal anecdotes, provided the stories are interesting and well-told. Make sure the story you tell fits these criteria and actually enriches your essay and contributes to your overall message. Don't get melodramatic and don't bog down your introduction in an overly long, detailed or irrelevant narrative, but if you've got a good story to tell to frame your essay, use it.

Say something new. Are you arguing something that falls well outside the typical series of canned responses? Consider leading with your thesis, or at least some of the information or realizations that guided your essay towards its thesis. There's no better way to stand out from a pile of fairly standard responses than to have something fresh and thought-provoking to contribute with your scholarship application.

With a solid introduction and a thoughtful and well-written response, you'll be well on your way to writing a scholarship-worthy essay.

And don't forget, you should pay for your college education with as much free money as possible! Find as many scholarships and grants as you can before turning to student loans. Visit the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today where you'll get matched with countless scholarships and grants for which you qualify, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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New Book Takes on Graduation Rates at State Colleges

Sep 10, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A new book is shedding light on graduation rates at state colleges, and also causing a stir with its findings and recommendations. The book, Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities, was written by William G. Bowen, a former president of Princeton University, Michael S. McPherson, a former president of Macalester College, and Matthew M. Chingos, a graduate student at Harvard University. It shows many of the nation's top public schools are coming up short when it comes to graduating students in four years, especially low-income and minority students.

The book analyzes the four-year and six-year graduation rates of students at 21 flagship universities and 47 four-year public universities in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia.  Among the findings, the authors reveal that flagship universities, typically the most competitive and prestigious in their state university systems, graduate only 49 percent of their students in four years, with other state colleges having even less success.  The six-year graduation rates for both sets of schools are better, but vary widely based on several factors discussed in the book.

Disparities by common demographic factors, namely race and socioeconomic status, were found in the research for the book, and were most pronounced among male students. However, the most striking differences come in terms of schools' selectivity. Some of these disparities include:

  • Graduation rates of 82-89% for the most selective and second most selective categories of schools and most competitive category of students (3.5+ high school GPA and 1200+ SAT score), but graduation rates of only 59% for the same category of students at the least selective schools.
  • Graduation rates of above 70% for all students at the most selective schools, regardless of GPA or test scores.
  • The disparity between the graduation rates of the most and least competitive students at the least selective schools was only 11 percentage points, while the disparity between students of similar ability at schools of different selectivity ranged 21 to 30 percentage points.
  • The least competitive group of students (GPA of less than 3.0 and/or SAT of less than 1000) did better at the most selective schools (71% graduation rate) than the most competitive students did at the least selective schools (59% graduation rate).

These results have many questioning the effectiveness of academic scholarships and other merit-based aid, especially in light of the University of Texas at Austin's recent decision to stop sponsoring the National Merit Scholarship Program. More so, though, they have experts, including the book's authors, wondering what is causing this disparity in graduation rates.

Price plays a huge role for students of low socioeconomic status, pushing them to attend the least expensive (and often least selective) schools or to opt out of four-year colleges entirely. Rising costs also could play a role in dropout rates among poorer students, so the availability of financial aid for all four years is crucial to graduation.

One of the biggest problems identified in the book is a phenomenon dubbed "under-matching." Highly qualified students are aiming low in the college application process, attending less selective schools with lower graduation rates when they could easily be accepted to and graduate from more selective schools with higher graduation rates. Students most likely to under-match are low socioeconomic status students whose parents did not attend or did not graduate from college. The higher a student's income and parents' level of education, the less likely the student is to under-match.

Based on this information, the authors suggest that schools focus their efforts on encouraging students to graduate in four years and to remain in school until they graduate. Keeping tuition low is a part of this, as are readjusting requirements to make graduating in four years more doable and, above all else, making it clear that students are expected to graduate in four years.

Graduation rates are gaining attention from other corners, as well. Washington Monthly included graduation rates in their recently released college rankings, and another study published this summer by the American Enterprise Institute compared graduation rates at colleges.The Education Department is also doing its part to make information on graduation rates available to students who complete the FAFSA on the Web.

And don't forget, you should pay for your college education with as much free money as possible! Find as many scholarships and grants as you can before turning to student loans. Visit the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today where you'll get matched with countless scholarships and grants for which you qualify, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Eye-Catching Titles Boost Course Enrollment

Sep 10, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Suffolk University offers "Sacred Hoops, Sneaker Pimps, and Hoop Dreams: Race, Gender, and Consumerism in 20th Century American Basketball" through its Seminar for Freshmen program. The University of California-Berkeley uses "StarCraft Theory and Strategy" for its course on war tactics. Santa Clara University has gotten students talking about waste and decomposition through its environmental science department's "Joy of Garbage."

Attracting students to courses by having some fun with their titles is not a new phenomenon, but a recent article by The Boston Globe says that it has become more common in a climate where professors are looking to boost enrollment in their classes, perhaps to make themselves less vulnerable during budget cut season. Boston College recently renamed a straightforward course on German literature to "Knights, Castles, and Dragons." The effect? Tripled enrollment.

Professors quoted in the article describe how important marketing has become in getting more students to fill seats in their classrooms. Students have a wealth of options at their fingertips when applying for courses, and after they're done filling their rosters with classes required by their majors, there may be little room for the more fun-sounding titles. So, anything that will give a student pause when putting together their course load is probably a good strategy. The professors also said that a heavy reliance on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter has given the college-bound a shorter attention span, and that even those already in college are bored more easily with the traditional course offerings. Students want to be entertained, even those in fields like computer science, philosophy, or traditionally more "stuffy" majors.

A word of advice, though: Be sure to consider the finished product of your transcript when signing up for courses with kooky titles. That "Science of Superheroes" class at the University of California-Irvine may be fun, but a balance of electives with interesting names and traditional courses applicable to your major will make you a better sell if you plan to pursue an advanced degree or land a job interview where the employer wants to see your coursework. As with an eye-catching course title, image is everything.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Parents of Scholarship Recipients Asked to Donate Awards to Others

Sep 9, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Penn State University's Schreyer Honors College offers admitted students $3,500 per year merit scholarships, a common practice among state colleges that want to entice the best students to attend. Students at Penn State and their parents are doing something unique with these scholarship awards, though: they're giving them to other Schreyer students.

Parents of scholarship recipients who did not apply for need-based financial aid receive a letter asking them to consider making a donation in the amount of the scholarship their children received. The letter, penned by the parents of other Schreyer students, emphasizes the amount of unmet financial need some of their children's classmates face and asks them to consider whether they need the extra $3,500 in order to pay their tuition bill. If not, they are asked to give the money to students for whom the extra money could make the difference between attending college at Penn State and staying home.

The university stresses that students are not being asked to give up their academic scholarships in this campaign. Rather, they ask that parents who can spare the extra money because their child received a scholarship would consider donating to help other deserving students who last year had more than $1 million in unmet financial need.

Honors colleges, even at large state universities, tend to be relatively close-knit communities of top-performing students who are engaged in their studies and their campus communities. It's not surprising, then, that parents of Schreyer Honors College students hit upon an idea to help their children's struggling classmates last year when the economy first began to sink into recession. The campaign was initiated by parents and supported by the university, which sends the letters on the parents' behalf.

Last year's appeal raised around $228,000, with over $120,000 of that going directly to 34 students who needed help paying for school. The remaining $100,000 went towards establishing an endowed trust to ensure that this effort continues helping students in the future. So far this year, the campaign has raised $13,000 from 11 donors.

Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Baker Wins Scholarships.com Culinary Arts Scholarship, Vows to Battle Obesity

Sep 9, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Briana G. wants to create a "healthy Twinkie." While completing an Associate's degree in Baking and Pastry Arts, she became concerned about America's obesity epidemic and realized she wanted to learn to craft more forgiving sweets. To help her complete her degree in Food Science and Dietetics at Colorado State University, Scholarships.com has named Briana the 2009 recipient of the annual $1,000 College Culinary Arts Scholarship.

Scholarships.com has been awarding Area of Study College Scholarships since summer 2008 to help students like Briana meet their college and career goals. The competition grants a $1,000 scholarship each month to a high school senior or undergraduate student planning to pursue a career in one of thirteen areas of study, including Culinary Arts.

"These students have such creative ideas and reasons for choosing a particular major and, through this program, we are able to help them share these ideas and aspirations," said Kevin Ladd, Vice President for Scholarships.com. "The Area of Study College Scholarships help students pay for college and also challenge them to really think about why they want to study a given subject or go into a particular field."

Applicants are asked to compose essays describing what influenced their career choices. In her submission, Briana described reconciling her desire to make "delicious, eye-catching desserts" with her growing awareness of how poor diets contribute to obesity. Her goal now it to make healthy version of the "sweet treats that Americans love."

The Scholarships.com Area of Study Scholarships are open to all U.S. citizens who will be attending college in the fall of 2009, regardless of age, test scores or grade point average. To apply for the Scholarships.com Area of Study College Scholarships, students can visit www.scholarships.com, conduct a free college scholarship search and complete an online scholarship application.

A complete list of Area of Study scholarship winners, as well as their winning essays is available on our Student Winners page.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Despite Downturn, Two Towns Announce Substantial Scholarships

Sep 8, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Even in the face of a continuing recession, new scholarship opportunities are being made available to students in a variety of situations. Recently, students in two communities in Michigan, a state hit especially hard by economic problems, have received news of scholarship programs that will give them significant help paying for school, even as the state considers cutting funding to one of its largest merit scholarship awards.

Baldwin, a community in rural northern Michigan, is the first to take advantage of the state's "Promise Zones" program, which allows areas with a high percentage of poor students to use state property tax funds to provide college scholarships for their students. Baldwin plans to offer scholarships of up to $5,000 for up to four years to current high school seniors. Up to nine other high-poverty communities in Michigan are eligible to participate in the program, provided they, like Baldwin, raise money to fund their scholarships for the first two years of awards. The Promise Zone funding, like the state's endangered Michigan Promise scholarship, were inspired by the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship, a full-tuition scholarship award created by an anonymous private donor that allows graduates of Kalamazoo public schools to attend any college in Michigan for four years.

Another Michigan community has also unveiled a substantial scholarship program for its high school students, this time a four-year full-tuition award to Finlandia University for all graduates of public schools in Hancock, a tiny mining town in the state's Upper Peninsula, who gain admission to the college. The scholarship program was created as Finlandia's way of paying the community for the use of a building that the school district no longer needed. Rather than working out a traditional payment plan for the purchase of the building, something complicated by tighter credit requirements, Finlandia proposed a deal that would provide more immediate and tangible benefits to the students of Hancock. The scholarships will be offered to members of Finlandia's current freshmen class and to subsequent graduates of Hancock's schools.

Local scholarships like these exist for communities nationwide, and are likely to seek out inventive ways to find funding, as community members are committed to helping their neighbors succeed. To find out more about scholarship opportunities for students in your area, conduct a free scholarship search.

And don't forget, you should pay for your college education with as much free money as possible! Find as many scholarships and grants as you can before turning to student loans. Visit the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today where you'll get matched with countless scholarships and grants for which you qualify, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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American Copy Editors Society Scholarship

Sep 8, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Journalism students who have an eye for detail and experience in the copy editing field, whether it be on the school newspaper or at an outside internship, should check out this week's Scholarship of the Week, an annual award given by the American Copy Editors Society Education Fund. The single $2,500 top prize is named after longtime copy editor Merv Aubespin, also a former president of the National Association of Black Journalists. Runner-ups will be eligible for four prizes of $1,000 each. The online applications will be evaluated by a panel of experienced copy editors, so demonstrating an interest in pursuing a career in the field is important. Ideal candidates will boast both relevant coursework and experience in copy editing.

Prize: 1 first prize of $2,500; 4 runner-up prizes of $1,000

Eligibility: College students with a minimum GPA of 2.5 who will be juniors, seniors or graduate students in the fall, and graduating students who will take full-time copy editing jobs or internships.

Deadline: November 15, 2009

Required Material: Completed online application form that will demonstrate an interest in and aptitude for copy editing.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Now is the Time to Score Athletic Scholarships

Sep 8, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

With college football season underway, it's a good time for high school athletes starting their senior years to be making their decisions on whether they'll be pursuing sports on the college level. Athletic scholarships go a long way toward making those decisions easier, and even in a struggling economy, sports programs continue to set aside funding to better their teams. Better yet, even those who aren't the top soccer, baseball or tennis player on the roster are eligible for scholarship opportunities offered by local groups outside of the NCAA awards looking to reward students who balance their schoolwork with athletics.

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune points to several tips for talented athletes in the market for scholarships, including making yourself known to coaches and schools early and often and making sure your grades are where they should be. Most athletic scholarships require a minimum GPA for eligibility, even if you're the star of your basketball team. And even if you do get that coveted sports scholarship, you'll be expected to maintain a decent GPA to be eligible for continued funding and a spot on the team. Student athletes should also keep an open mind about schools they're targeting. Big-name schools are much more competitive, and unless you're one of the top athletes in your field, they may offer much less play time even if you do make the team than smaller colleges outside of Division I. A college search is a good place to start to learn more about colleges offering your sports program.

It isn't easy to be recruited for a full ride at a top university. A strategy of more students recently has been specializing in one sport, or getting involved in sports outside of football, baseball and basketball that get less attention to stand out more in the competitive world of sports scholarships. New sports scholarships in fields like lacrosse, for example, are becoming more common, and with new scholarships, the competition is often much less fierce than with more popular, established award programs.

For those who excel in both sports and athletics, straight academic scholarships may prove to be a good option as well, especially if you're a good essay writer.

Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Veterans Face Financial Aid Delays

Sep 4, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The new Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect on August 1, bringing expanded educational benefits for students who have served in the military since 2001. These benefits are supposed to be available to students for the fall semester, but a mounting backlog of applications has the Department of Veterans Affairs saying recipients should expect processing delays of up to 8 weeks.

This means that many veterans attending college may not receive their first payments from the VA until potentially October or even November, despite classes starting in August and September. So not only will their tuition and fees go unpaid, but they also will have to find other sources of funding for housing, books, and living expenses, which many veterans expected to rely on VA stipends to pay. While most colleges are working with their veteran students to arrange stopgap financial aid, the delayed payments still represent a huge problem for students going back to school after military service.

The application process for VA benefits under the GI Bill is somewhat complex and involves multiple steps between a student's initial decision to enroll in college and his or her ultimate receipt of a check from the VA. Students, schools, and the VA all need to complete paperwork to set up benefits, and May 7 was the earliest students could begin applying. In addition, current VA employees and new hires needed to be trained to process applications under the new program, so processing is taking longer than normal.

Add in the popularity of the expanded GI Bill benefits, the recession bringing students back to college in droves (with fewer financial resources available to them), and colleges across the country dealing with massive budget crises and increased demand for emergency aid, and you get the potential for disaster. More students are applying for benefits, the VA is less able to process these applications in a timely manner, and schools have more students in difficult situations to assist. All parties have fewer resources at their disposal to deal with the situation, making it still more challenging.

Still, vets who have found their benefits delayed should talk to the financial aid and veteran's affairs contacts at their school if they need additional financial aid to cover their expenses in the short term. While money is scarce, it is still available in most cases.

And don't forget, you should pay for your college education with as much free money as possible! Find as many scholarships and grants as you can before turning to student loans. Visit the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today where you'll get matched with countless scholarships and grants for which you qualify, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Cuban Students Punished for Winning U.S. Scholarships

Sep 4, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A group of Cuban students that had plans to attend American community colleges on U.S.-funded scholarships have been denied visa requests to leave their home country.

A Miami Herald article today says that some of the students were also expelled from the Cuban universities they had been attending prior to winning the awards. The group of about 30 Cuban students were part of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs scholarship program. The program, which received more than 750 applications from Cuban students this year, provides scholarships to international students interested in attending American colleges. Candidates are chosen based on merit and are offered one-year scholarships to community colleges in Arizona, Tennessee and Idaho in fields like business, agriculture and communications.

The article suggests that the Cuban government felt the students would have been adversely affected by enrolling in colleges in the United States, and that the scholarships aimed to "ideologically permeate university students" because they included a summer program for the students on developing their leadership skills. This was the first year Cuban students would have participated in the program.

American students, on the other hand, have had success enrolling in Cuban programs. Recently, a medical student from Dallas opted to finish her degree in Havana because the Cuban school offered her a full scholarship, monthly stipend and room and board paid for by the Cuban Ministry of Public Health. The Latin American School of Medicine in Havana has seen an increase in the number of American students applying to its program the last few years. For those interested in less of a commitment but want a taste of college life outside the United States, perhaps a study abroad program is the way to go.

Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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