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A Strong Foundation Means a Strong Application

December 8, 2009

by Derrius Quarles

Once you start the process of identifying scholarships that you qualify for, start a scholarship table that will help you track the progress of them. The scholarship table should list the name, amount, deadline, if you have completed the scholarship application, and if you have submitted the application for each scholarship you have identified.  This will be a very effective tool in helping you remain aware of the status of your scholarships. When you begin to complete your applications you will notice that there are many components to each scholarship, which could seem very cumbersome. However, you can break each scholarship down to smaller sections, which will essentially allow you to spread the time you spend on each application out and make the process less strenuous.

Most scholarships can be divided up into these sections:

  • Contact Info
  • Academic info
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Personal Statement/Essays
  • Recommendations

Each component is very important and will require attention in order to build a strong application, but there are certain components that tell the scholarship review boards the most about who you truly are as a person. These components are the essay(s) and the recommendation(s) and I believe that these components are the foundation of your application.

The essay(s) is a critical portion of your application because it shows how well you can articulate your personal experiences, past accomplishments, and future aspirations. While reading your essays the reviewers should receive a glimpse of your personality and delve into who you are as a person. They should reflect your potential to write at the collegiate level and ability to be both creative and eloquent. You must find a way to begin your essay creatively because that will keep the reader interested throughout your entire essay. The introduction should be the beginning of telling the reader a story, instead of writing like you would for a research paper. Once you draw the reader in with an interesting introduction, expand on the story with your body paragraphs. After the body paragraphs, wrap the essay up with a strong conclusion that shows what you learned from the story and how that story made you a better person. When you complete any essay for a scholarship application, save it to your computer and a flash drive so that you can revise it and possibly use it in subsequent applications.

The scholarship letter of recommendation will give the reviewers an opportunity to see a respected individual's opinion of you and should accentuate the activities and information listed in the rest of the application.  The reason they are so important is because it is the only part of the application that is not completed by you, and sometimes the quality of your recommendation (length, content, position of person who completes it) says more about who you are as a person than anything you could say about yourself. This is why it is imperative that your recommendations are completed by people that have had a close relationship with you (other than a family member), have observed your participation in different extracurricular activities, and are familiar with the scholarship you are applying to. Always give your recommenders at least three weeks to complete your recommendation whether they are hard copies or online and always have a résumé ready to give them in case they want to know more about all of your past activities. If the recommendation is a hard copy, ask your recommender if you can make copies for future scholarships so that you do not have to ask them every time. Keep in mind that each portion of your scholarship is important, but the essay and recommendation are the foundation of your application, and a strong foundation means a strong application.

About the Author:

Gates Millennium scholarship and won a number of other highly competitive awards, many of which he found while searching for scholarships at Scholarships.com. He is the first in his family to attend college, and spent his childhood in the foster care system before becoming the “Million Dollar Scholar.” This is the second in a series of posts Derrius will write for Scholarships.com on how he was able to fund his education, along with advice about the scholarship application process.

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The Scholarship Interview; "Making" It or "Breaking" It

February 15, 2010

by Derrius Quarles

Now that you have made your scholarship list, gotten your recommendations, written your personal statement, created your scholarship application packet and applied for scholarships, you may be receiving e-mails and calls notifying you that you have been selected for interviews. This is it! This is what you worked so hard for! The only problem is, for some students, the interviews will be it, literally. Each scholarship will have a certain number of winners; more students will be invited to interviews than can be selected as recipients. This is why the interview is so crucial; it will be the determining factor of who is in the final group of winners. If you want to be in that final group, you have to set yourself apart, just as you did in your personal statement.  Speaking of personal statements, which essentially are essays, I like to think of the interview as an essay. There is an introduction, body, and a conclusion. Like your scholarship essay, the interview says something about who you are, how informed you are of a topic, what your opinions and thoughts are, and how eloquently you can state those opinions and thoughts. So here is the interview breakdown:  Introduction - Your appearance, handshake, ability to make eye contact, ability to state your name, posture, and overall attitude all add up to a great introduction.

     
  • In every interview, your dress should be business casual, at the very least. Even if the interviewers did not specify a dress code, it is better to be overdressed than to be underdressed
  •  
  • The handshake should be firm, but not overpowering or held for too long
  •  
  • Eye contact is a sign of respect in American society, so always show respect by looking your interviewer in the eye
  •  
  • You should be able to say your first and last name confidently to each interviewer, maintain a good listening posture, and make the interviewers feel like you desire to be there and deserve the scholarship
  •  
 Body - This consists of the questions that will be asked of you. These can either be very open ended such as: “Tell us about yourself.”Or very direct such as: “What is your potential major?” Not only are your answers important but so, too, are the manner in which you listen and interact with the interviewers. 
     
  • The questions can get difficult, it is much better to pause and gather your thoughts before you answer than to answer prematurely
  •  
  • When the interviewers are talking give them your full attention and listen actively and be aware of your body language
  •  
  • Try to answer each question completely and give a complete answer, but do not talk unnecessarily or ramble
  •  
  • Do not be afraid to be yourself or throw some humor into your answers
  •  
 Conclusion - The time to wrap up everything you showed during the introduction and body of the interview. This includes keeping the same professionalism and great attitude you came in with, and reinforcing the answers you gave. 
     
  • When the interviewers are done asking you their questions, they may see if you have any questions for them. Even if they do not ask if you have any questions, politely tell them you would like to ask them some questions. This shows you are interested in them, just as much as they are in you.
  •  
  • When you get up to leave the interview room, make sure that you shake every person’s hand in the room and thank them for the opportunity.
  •  
 In addition to having a good intro, body, and conclusion there are simple mistakes that everyone should avoid, the way you would try to steer clear of spelling and grammar mistakes in an essay. 
     
  1. Always show up early for an interview
  2.  
  3. Turn your cellular device on silent mode or off
  4.  
  5. Do not fidget your fingers or give attention to other items such as a pen while others are speaking
  6.  
  7. Never leave the interview without showing appreciation and stating that you look forward to communication in the future
  8.  
 You worked hard to be chosen for an interview, and you deserve anything that you are awarded. Unfortunately, someone will have to “break it”, so take this advice and come into the interview ready to “make it”.

Derrius L Quarles is a 19-year-old freshman at Morehouse College. He hopes to go to medical school after he graduates with a degree in psychology and biology and a minor in public health, and to one day work on the public health policies of his hometown, Chicago, and beyond. To help him achieve those academic and career ambitions, Derrius has won more than $1.1 million in scholarships, including a full scholarship to attend Morehouse, since graduating from Chicago’s Kenwood Academy High School with a 4.2 GPA. Derrius was awarded a Gates Millennium scholarship and won a number of other highly competitive awards, many of which he found while searching for scholarships at Scholarships.com. He is the first in his family to attend college, and spent his childhood in the foster care system before becoming the “Million Dollar Scholar.” This is the sixth in a series of posts Derrius is writing for Scholarships.com on how he was able to fund his education, along with advice about the scholarship application process.

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Oh, How The Small Things Add Up

Tips For Saving Money In College

July 6, 2010

by Derrius Quarles

Your checking account is low. "I'll just call home," you say, but you soon learn that your parents refuse to send you any more money. "What about my savings?" Depleted, and you won’t be receiving your work study check for another two weeks. "Okay," you tell yourself, "I can make it through this." Then you open your mini-fridge to find it has become a vacant box except for the ice cubes in the freezer. "I can make it though this" quickly becomes "How am I going to make it through this?"

Unfortunately, this is a position many college students find themselves in at some point due to the many expenses that come with paying for college and surviving while there. There is no plan that can absolutely guarantee this will never happen to you, however, there is one concept that, if put into practice, can help you make sure this hypothetical story does not become your reality. That concept is money management. For many college students this is a concept that is not understood until after a freshman year crisis like the one above, or even worse, an after graduation crisis. This does not have to happen to you, though. You do not have to face an empty bank account or refrigerator to learn how to manage your money. Rather, by learning how to mange your money early, you can avoid the behaviors and habits that lead to such crises while in college. The three things that all college students should understand when it comes to managing their money in college are:

  1. Frequent Purchases
  2. Infrequent Purchases
  3. Budgeting

Frequent purchases are ironic little things. Ironic because most people constantly buy them and do not believe they make a big difference in their budget. Truth is, these small, frequent purchases are what most college students spend most of their money (not including financial aid) on. Small things like gas, take-out, groceries, flying home, clothing, and entertainment. The reason these small things trick many students is because they do not seem like much at the time of purchase. $40 dollars spent on clothes once every day of the week, is easily perceived as less than $280 spent on clothes one day out of the week. When you take into account all of the purchases where this effect can occur, the small things quickly add up to a large amount of money. For example, if a student buys take-out two times a week at $20, that adds up to $200 a month. Then add entertainment (movies, clubs, restaurants, bowling, etc) at $30 a week and you have $150 for the month. If this were your budget, you would have just spent $350 on take-out and entertainment for the month! In order to alleviate spending large amounts of money on small things over time, you have to keep track of all your purchases, no matter how small they are. Another way of spending less on small purchases is to find discounts and by shopping smart. If you have a roommate, then you could buy food for the dorm with them and you could split the costs of dorm items such as TV’s, mini-fridges, irons, ironing boards, etc. Another way of saving money is to utilize your meal plan as much as possible. Your school is going to get paid whether you choose to eat their food or not, so it is best to eat the food available in the dining hall rather than ordering take out. When buying clothing find places that offer college students discounts, or that have good sales. There are also stores that will buy your used clothes and give you cash for them. If you are buying things online, no matter what it is, always search for online coupon codes before purchasing because it could save you 15-50% on your purchase. The last frequent purchase where you could save a ton of money is airline tickets. Even if you only fly home two times out of the year, it could be ridiculously expensive. Buy your tickets as early as possible because it will be cheaper, pack light because baggage fees are steep, and check out AirTran U, which offers students between the ages of 18-22 huge discounts on flights all across America.

Infrequent purchases usually costs a lot more up front, which is the main reason they are infrequent. For college students these purchases usually include books, computers, printers, and summer storage for items too big to bring home. The best way to save on these items is pretty simple. Do your research on which stores or companies have the best price for what you need. When it comes to books, remember this one thing: Your campus bookstore will almost always inflate the prices of textbooks 40% or more, and they give small amounts of money if you want to sell your books back. Even the used textbooks at your campus bookstore will be expensive when compared to online resources. When shopping for a computer, price may not always be the thing you want to look at. If the computer is cheap, but it will break in a year, then it may not be the best buy. You should look for a computer that is in your budget but will also last all of your college years. Another way to save on computers is to look for online discounts, discounts specifically for students, and to buy your computer and printer as a bundle package. Summer storage can also be very expensive so it is best to do your research and find the best price.

The most important step in the process of saving money while in college is creating a budget and sticking to it. Create a spreadsheet that lists all of your income and expenses by category. Then set a cap for each expense so that you do not deplete your funds. Create on online sign in for your bank accounts so you can always stay abreast on what you have spent. Also, try to avoid overdraft fees by making sure your account never becomes negative and by only going to ATM machines that do not charge you fees for withdrawals. Remember that the small things add up to a lot of money when you are in college, so monitor and limit your frequent purchases, find ways to save on your infrequent purchases, and create a budget so that you always know where your money is and where it is going.

Derrius L Quarles is a 19-year-old freshman at Morehouse College. He hopes to go to medical school after he graduates with a degree in psychology and biology and a minor in public health, and to one day work on the public health policies of his hometown, Chicago, and beyond. To help him achieve those academic and career ambitions, Derrius has won more than $1.1 million in scholarships, including a full scholarship to attend Morehouse, since graduating from Chicago’s Kenwood Academy High School with a 4.2 GPA. Derrius was awarded a Gates Millennium scholarship and won a number of other highly competitive awards, many of which he found while searching for scholarships at Scholarships.com. He is the first in his family to attend college, and spent his childhood in the foster care system before becoming the “Million Dollar Scholar.” This is the sixth in a series of posts Derrius is writing for Scholarships.com on how he was able to fund his education, along with advice about the scholarship application process.

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The Perks of Student Checking Accounts

October 6, 2011

The Perks of Student Checking Accounts

by Jacquelene Bennett

Being a college student is stressful. The demands go beyond the classroom and university but despite all of those stressors, being a student also entitles you to some everyday perks – like being eligible for a student checking account at a bank.

So what do you get for having a student checking account? Here are a few reasons to consider opening one:

Fewer fees. Most of the time, student accounts aren’t charged monthly service fees (penalties banks charge for having insufficient funds in an account) or for making transfers from one account to another. Also the minimum amount of money needed to open the account is lower: Typically, you only need $25 to open an account versus hundreds.

Free necessities. When you open a student checking account, your debit card and first set of checks are gratis. Not bad for two things students use on a regular basis!

Rewards. Banks sometimes reward systems linked with the opening of student checking accounts. One of the reward systems my bank has is called "Keep the Change," where every purchase is rounded to the nearest dollar and the difference is automatically transferred to your savings account. After the first three months of transferring your change, the bank matches your savings and gives you the money in your savings account.

Credit card options. When you enroll in a student checking account, most banks give you the option of obtaining a credit card through the bank. This credit card usually has a low interest rate but a low credit line. This is great for three reasons: It will limit your urge to spend, it will keep your payments manageable and it’s enough to help you start building a great credit score.

So those are the benefits of student checking accounts at most banks. You’re only a student for so long – take advantage of the perks while you can!

Jacquelene Bennett is a senior at the University of Redlands where her areas of study are creative writing, government and religious studies. When she is not studying or working, you can usually find her eating frozen yogurt or blogging about her day. She has a cactus named Kat and believes that Stephen Colbert is a genius. Jacquelene works hard, laughs hard and knows that one day you’ll see her name in lights.

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Cyber Monday Could Be a College Student’s Best Friend

November 28, 2011

Cyber Monday Could Be a College Student’s Best Friend

by Jessica Seals

Waking up at 2 a.m. to stand outside in the freezing cold waiting for a store to open is a holiday tradition for some people. On the other hand, there are thousands of others who refuse to give up sleep to stand in a long line for an item that will sell out before they even get inside the store. That’s right: I’m talking about Black Friday and for those of you who are on tight budgets – aka almost all college students! – it may seem like this day is your only chance to get holiday presents at affordable prices...but it’s not.

After experiencing the fights over the most-sought after items every year on Black Friday, I decided to stop giving in to this “holiday” in favor of participating in Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving). Retailers have noticed that the number of online purchases is steadily increasing; therefore, they put some of the same sale prices that can be found in stores online. This is great for college students because they can spend the day after Thanksgiving with their families instead of arguing with strangers. Win-win!

I have become a Cyber Monday proponent because I prefer to do all of my shopping from the comforts of my own home – far away from angry shoppers who try to snatch items from my cart while I am not looking. As store lines continue to grow longer and the televisions and game systems sell out even faster, Cyber Monday is becoming a more attractive option. I can almost hear sighs of relief from college students everywhere who are trying to juggle countless end-of-semester commitments!

Jessica Seals is currently a senior at the University of Memphis majoring in political science and minoring in English. At the University of Memphis, she is the secretary of the Pre-Law Society, the philanthropy chair of the Phi Kappa Phi Student Council and a member of Professional Assertive United Sisters of Excellence (PAUSE), Golden Key Honor Society, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, Sigma Alpha Lambda Honor Society, and Black Scholars Unlimited. She also volunteers to tutor her fellow classmates and hopes to attend law school in the near future.

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How Will You Fund Your College Education?

June 8, 2012

How Will You Fund Your College Education?

by Jessica Seals

Throughout my undergraduate career, I was lucky enough to be the recipient of scholarships and grants that helped cover my tuition and other fees. Thousands of other college students across the country also rely on this free money to pay for their education and we should all be taking note of the fact that many financial aid options that we have to help pay for college are being eliminated or being heavily restricted. For example, two years ago I was able to take summer classes and receive a Pell Grant because the government allowed students to receive it during the fall, spring and summer semesters. Now, students are only eligible to receive the grant two semesters out of the year which means that a student cannot put the funds toward summer classes if they’ve already applied them to the fall and spring semesters for that academic year.

Many people already decide not to enroll in college because they do not feel like they can afford it. Cutting down on the usage of the Pell Grant can force many students to skip summer classes and send them down a slippery slope, as more students will be forced to stay in school longer and accrue more debt from student loans. Classrooms will become emptier during summer sessions and colleges hard-pressed for funds could raise tuition to compensate. The problem will continue to spiral out of control and lead to more reasons why people opt out of attending college.

We all should become more aware of the decreases that are being made towards higher education spending. The changes affect all of us and if we can all become aware of them, we’ll be able to take (and guide others along) the necessary route to make sure that paying for school is a lot less stressful.

Jessica Seals is recent graduate of the University of Memphis, where she majored in political science and minored in English. She was the secretary of the Pre-Law Society, the philanthropy chair of the Phi Kappa Phi Student Council and a member of Professional Assertive United Sisters of Excellence (PAUSE), Golden Key Honor Society, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, Sigma Alpha Lambda Honor Society and Black Scholars Unlimited. Jessica will be back at Memphis this fall to begin working toward her master’s degree in political science this fall; she ultimately hopes to attend law school.

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See the World in the Summertime!

Exploring the Many Benefits of Summer Abroad Programs

August 10, 2012

See the World in the Summertime!

by Kara Coleman

Many universities across the country offer study abroad programs for students who wish to spend a semester in another country. Every student that I know of who has ever participated in one of these programs hails it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience...but what if you can’t afford to spend an entire semester overseas or you don’t want to interfere with your planned graduation date or schoolwork? Consider seeing the world on shorter-term trips during the summer! You’ll still get the experience of traveling and seeing what life is like in other countries without taking a lot of time off from work or school.

This past May, my university sent 10 students from its honors program to China for two weeks. Though they did do a few touristy things, they spent most of their time learning at Taizhou University. Because the Chinese academic year is different than ours in the U.S., the Chinese students were still in classes and the American students were able to jump in and study alongside them after their final exams had been completed at home. The best part? The trip was completely paid for by JSU!

You can also use the summer months to explore the world on a trip not associated with your college. Last month, I spent a week in Honduras on a mission trip, where I volunteered in a shelter for homeless children. I was able to experience firsthand what life is like in a third-world country and have plenty to tell my friends about when school starts back up later this month.

So where will you be at this time next year? Studying kung fu in a Chinese university? Playing soccer with kids in Central America? Or maybe something completely different? A whole world of opportunities awaits you – literally!

Kara Coleman graduated from Gadsden State Community College with an Associate of Arts degree and she is currently studying communications with concentration in print journalism at Jacksonville State University. Kara's writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children's author through Big Dif Books; she is also the editor-in-chief of JSU's student newspaper, The Chanticleer.

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Is Not Struggling a Struggle?

July 25, 2012

Is Not Struggling a Struggle?

by Kara Coleman

Recently, 22-year-old Taylor Cotter published an article on The Huffington Post about her success since she graduated from college in May. The odd thing about Cotter’s piece is that she doesn’t take the angle of a success story in a struggling economy – she feels that she should be struggling more!

Cotter talks about how many of her friends are working part-time jobs, living at home with their parents and/or having diets consisting mostly of Ramen; she feels that she is missing out on the post-college twentysomething life by having a ‘real job’ and a 401(k). Some readers – including myself – are appalled by Cotter’s tone. It seems to me that it would be the dream of every college student to find a full-time job directly after graduation but Cotter almost seems remorseful that she made herself marketable to companies who would hire her.

I have been living at home with my parents and working part-time jobs ranging from lifeguarding to tutoring to retail over the past few years to supplement educational costs. Now that I am preparing to move into an apartment with my friends next month, I know full well that I’ll be eating my fair share of peanut butter sandwiches and cereal; while I’m excited to begin this next phase of my life, I’m more so look forward to the day when I have a full-time job – the same situation Cotter is essentially complaining about.

Isn’t that what college is for? Teaching us how to go from being dependent children to self-supporting adults? Or I could be wrong: Maybe it’s a time to either live with your parents or eat Ramen noodles. What do YOU think?

Kara Coleman graduated from Gadsden State Community College with an Associate of Arts degree and she is currently studying communications with concentration in print journalism at Jacksonville State University. Kara's writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children's author through Big Dif Books; she is also the editor-in-chief of JSU's student newspaper, The Chanticleer.

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The Truth About Tuition Rates

March 12, 2012

The Truth About Tuition Rates

by Kara Coleman

Did you know that if you are a business major, you could be paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars more for your college education than a political science major at the same school?

While certainly not a new concept, the number of schools with differential tuition rates has been growing steadily since 1980. At some colleges, juniors and seniors pay a higher tuition rate than do freshmen and sophomores; others charge students more depending on the field of study they are entering. The most common programs to be slammed with higher rates are nursing, business and engineering (the departments that cost the most money to operate) but some schools also charge special rates for students who are majoring in journalism, architecture, fine arts, education and physics. Just how many schools are doing this? A team from the Cornell Higher Research Institute found that 143 public colleges in the U.S. currently had differential tuition rates over the 2010-2011 academic year.

Is this fair? Students should choose their majors depending on their interests and talents but I can easily see where someone who wanted to attend their dream school might select a different field of study if it promised lower tuition rates than their first choice of major. Of course, most colleges still have a one-size-fits-all tuition rate so one must wonder if these schools benefit from other colleges charging more for certain courses of study. If I were considering nursing programs at two different public schools and the tuition rate at one was $250 more per semester than the other, the cost difference is substantial enough to take into consideration.

My university charges a flat, in-state credit hour fee. Could it be the next school to jump on the differential tuition rate bandwagon...or will it be yours?

This summer, Kara Coleman graduated from Gadsden State Community College with an Associate of Arts degree. She is currently studying communications with concentration in print journalism at Jacksonville State University Kara's writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children's author through Big Dif Books.

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Should You Commute to College?

February 24, 2012

Should You Commute to College?

by Kara Coleman

Traditionally, most college students live in dorms or apartments on or near their campuses to get the full “college experience.” But before you sign that rental agreement, you might want to consider living at home and commuting to school.

We’re all familiar with the stereotypical college student – eating Ramen noodles for every meal and taking out student loans to pay for books and tuition – but that doesn’t have to be you! My goal is to graduate from college debt-free so I live at home with my parents and commute to a university about 30 minutes away. Because I live at home, I am able to save myself rent and utility expenses and use the money I earn from my job to pay cash for my tuition and books. Some students prefer the feeling of independence that comes with living on your own (I mean, if you live in your parents’ house, you live by their rules!) but not taking out student loans will mean financial freedom after I graduate and get a real job.

The downside to living so far off-campus is that I’m not as connected to events and happenings at school as the students who live there are. It’s not always easy to make it to meetings and events when commuting from the next county but by no means does it deprive me of the college experience: I still attend football games, plays and seminars at my university, and hang out with friends between classes.

Is living home and commuting right for you? While it’s certainly not for everyone, it’s definitely an option that I encourage students to consider while making housing plans for the upcoming school year.

This summer, Kara Coleman graduated from Gadsden State Community College with an Associate of Arts degree. She is currently studying communications with concentration in print journalism at Jacksonville State University Kara's writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children's author through Big Dif Books.

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