Doug Savage, TG Senior Regional Account Executive
There's little question that the digital age has democratized knowledge. These days, answering a question that once would have required extensive study and research may involve little more than a few clicks. Barriers to knowledge - including distance, expense, and institutional gatekeepers - have in many cases been made obsolete. That's an undeniable upside to the digital age. There is, however, a complementary downside: the sheer quantity of information may make it hard to digest. Data without context can be confusing. As technology historian George Dyson notes, "Information is cheap, but meaning is expensive."
As applied to the world of scholarships, those two facts - we have improved access to data, but we may not understand what it means - translate to a reality in which it is easier than ever for students to find out about scholarships for which they may be eligible but data saturation may keep them from making good use of available resources. This article aims to help give students a little more sense of the forest rather than the trees.
Applying for scholarships isn't the same thing as filling out the FAFSA.
When it comes to financial aid, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is generally step one. Why? Because that one step sets students on the path to gaining federal and state aid. That's all great, but students may not understand that it's still a good idea for them to a scholarship search. They'll have heard that FAFSA completion will get them considered for all kinds of aid, and may not have fully digested that most scholarships require students to apply for them individually (rather than filling out one over-arching financial aid application). In practical terms, they may need a nudge to understand that it's a good idea to do a search, select some scholarships which are a good match, and apply as directed.
Think "free" not "fee."
There are a number of scholarship search services available for a fee. Students pay money, and the service matches them with scholarships for which they may be eligible. Thinking that the for-fee service must be more tailored to their needs than a free website, students may think the services offer a good value. However, some of these fee-based sites may be scams, and several of the free sites are excellent. These sites have databases that are regularly updated with new scholarships and/or any changes to application processes or criteria. Besides TG's scholarship search engine on its own Adventures In Education (AIE) website, (www.AIE.org/scholarships/), other free and available search engines are provided by:
Scholarships have varied criteria.
For many students, the negative voice in their heads will immediately begin squelching enthusiasm, shouting out gloomy pronouncements like "I'm not a straight A student!" or "I'm not an outstanding athlete or artist!" Part of this mission is to shine a light through the gloomy fog, reiterating to students that scholarships have varied criteria. Ranging from unique interests to where one lives to family background to none of the above, scholarship are available to a wide range of people, not just the start atheletes and exceptional scholars. It's in every student's best interest to conduct a search and not dismiss their chances without trying.
Cutting and pasting may not be the best approach.
Filling out applications isn't a favorite activity for many people. It follows, as night follows day, that students may be tempted to cut and paste a lot of text from one application into another. That is not the best idea. Why not? Remind students how the criteria vaired! That means that when a student is applying, it is poor audience adaptation to use the same answers for different scholarships provided by different donors who are looking for different things. Explain to students that while they should not misrepresent themselves, it is okay - advisable, in fact - to target answers to the kinds of qualities that best show how the student matches the given criteria.
Not every scholarship is listed in every database.
Some scholarships may be new and therefore may not be in every database. Some scholarship information may only be available through a college's website, or through a local civic organization or other local group. Some applications may be offline only. The point is that it's worth checking multiple sources rather than to do one search in one database. Students will benefit from checking with their Financial Aid Office, of course; that would be ideal. Short of that, broadly communicate that using one or more of the online search databases mentioned above is advisable, or that sutdents can check the school's website for informaiton about institutional aid. A little persistence and determination may lead them to an excellent funding source in realizing their college and career dreams.
In many ways, technology makes this a great time to be a student. Compared to their parents' generation students today have an abundance of easily available information about funding sources. With a little guidance, students can convert that information into meaningful knowledge on which they can act.
Doug Savage is a senior regional account executive for TG serving schools in TASFAA. You can reach Doug at (800) 252-9743, ext. 6711, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information about TG can be found online at www.TG.org.