Unit 10: Finances and Resources

Chapter 45: Hidden Money: Scholarships

Alise Lamoreaux

Thinking about applying for scholarships can seem like an overwhelming prospect, and students have many excuses for not applying. There are so many scholarships available for college that knowing where to start is the first obstacle to the process. Remember, scholarships are the gift of money for college. A gift does not have to be paid back like a loan does.

Scholarships are offered to students who meet a specific requirement established by the sponsor, who may be an individual or an organization. Scholarships can be offered through local, state, or national sponsors. Each scholarship will have its own requirements based on the purpose of the scholarship. Scholarships are a good way to help pay for college without increasing student debt. Students may also apply for multiple scholarships. Receiving a scholarship may affect the student’s overall financial aid award if all the student aid added together cannot be more than the cost of attending college. In some cases, though, it is possible to get a refund on your student financial aid if you get a scholarship. This will decrease the overall amount you owe at the end of your program of study. Regardless, it is important to remember that scholarships do not have to be repaid, so trying to include a scholarship in your overall financial aid package is a good idea.

Common reasons why students do not apply for scholarships

  • Scholarships are only for people with good grades or athletic skills.
  • There aren’t scholarships for someone like me.
  • You have to be documented to get a scholarship.
  • You have to be a good essay writer to win a scholarship.
  • There is too much competition to even try.
  • Finding scholarships to apply for is hard and takes too much time
  • Scholarship awards are for small amounts of money, so it’s not worth it.
  • Scholarships are only for high school graduates.
  • GED graduates can’t get scholarships.
  • I applied for a scholarship once and didn’t get it.

The most important thing to remember is that there are scholarships for everyone. There are specific scholarships for first-generation students, veterans, LGBTQ+, undocumented students, low-income students, it’s just a matter of finding one that fits your needs. Finding these scholarships requires research and effort on the part of the student, but the effort can have a financially rewarding outcome. Visit your campus financial aid office, multicultural, LGBTQ+ groups, women’s centers, or veteran’s centers and ask about scholarships that you might be eligible for.

The Internet has  also changed the search process. In today’s scholarship search process, a student can use several websites to help find the treasure. Never pay for help to search for scholarships. Websites that charge fees to find scholarships may be scams. The Scholarship Fraud Prevention Act of 2000 was passed to help increase the penalties for people convicted of scholarship fraud.

Free help can be found through the college you have selected to attend as well as through several great websites. If you are in Oregon, start by visiting the Office of Student Access and Completion (https://oregonstudentaid.gov/scholarships.aspx). This website has one application that will get you access to a number of local scholarships. If you are not in Oregon, check with student support services (like the financial aid office) at your college to see what scholarships are offered. Scholarship Junkies, Unigo, Fastweb, and Fin Aid are examples of online resources for finding scholarships to apply for. Unigo even has a section for scholarships that don’t require an essay.

Many colleges and universities have even have specific websites with links to financial resources for DACA and undocumented students. For example, Oregon State University has this website with a number of resources: https://undocumented.oregonstate.edu/undergraduate-resources

Mistakes to avoid when applying for college scholarships

Scholarship committees want to give their money away to deserving students. It’s your job to properly sell yourself so they know why you are the right choice. Build a profile that can’t be ignored, one that showcases your originality, your character and your drive to be successful. Avoid these common mistakes students make. Get your application done right!


One of the major reasons student fail to earn scholarships is due to missing the application deadline. Deadlines matter and once they pass, the opportunity for that scholarship has ended for that year or that term. Many scholarship applications are due at the beginning of the year (January or February) for the upcoming academic year. Some smaller ones have different due dates each term. It is also important to pay attention to the time zone the deadline occurs in. The scholarship website may be located in a different time zone than you are. If the deadline says 11:30 pm EST (Eastern Standard Time) that is 8:30 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time). If the scholarship says it’s due by March 15th, it means it. On March 16th you will not be able to submit the application. The lesson here is to start working on your application early and be prepared to submit it at least a couple days before the deadline, if possible.

Fill Out The Application Correctly

The directions on a scholarship application are not suggestions. These are the basic requirements that you need to fulfill in order to be considered for a scholarship. If there are several essay questions, answer all of them, paying special attention to what the questions are asking for and the word limit that they have given. Also, make sure you submit the application in the correct manner. If you email your application when you are supposed to mail it or don’t format your application correctly, you may not get the scholarship.

Fill Out The Application Completely

Scholarship committees request specific information because they need it. If the scholarship committee does not receive all of that information from you, the scholarship committee will likely look at your application, see that it is incomplete, and move it to the disqualified pile. If your application is submitted online and the information is incomplete, the application will not make it past the computer screening.

Make sure you are eligible for the scholarship

Read the requirements of the scholarship carefully. If there is a specific aspect of the scholarship that you do not meet, find a different scholarship to apply for. If you do match the scholarship eligibility requirements, make sure you highlight your eligibility in the application materials. One common mistake of students applying for financial need scholarships is to not go into detail about the extent of their financial needs. Even if it feels embarrassing (for example, like talking about lack of financial resources), it is important to specifically address how you fit with the eligibility requirements of a scholarship.

Familiarize yourself with the sponsor of the scholarship

Use the Internet to find out as much as possible about the sponsor of the scholarship. If it is a company or organization, find out what their mission is and what they care about. If the sponsor is a person or in memory of a person, what was the person’s passion? If you’re able to include some key words from the mission of the scholarship in your personal essay, this will make you seem like a better fit.

Proofread Your Application

Always have someone proofread your application before you send it in. This will help reduce any spelling or grammar errors or other mistakes that may be in your application before you send it. It’s also a good idea to have someone else read through your essay. Ask a friend to look through it or bring your application to your college writing center or career center. The tutors working at these centers have lots of experience with reading scholarship essays and applications. They’ll be able to not only proofread, but perhaps also provide some useful suggestions for improvement.  If you want to earn some money, you’ll want your application to be as polished as possible!

Scholarship Essay Mistakes

Word count is probably the most common scholarship essay mistake. If the application asks for a word range, hit the range. If it asks for a specific word count, hit the word count as closely as possible. This shows you’re capable of paying attention and satisfying specific requirements. Another common mistake is falling off topic. You want your essay to stand out from all the others. It needs to be unique, but it needs to address the topic given. Remember to bring your essay to a writing center or career center to get advice. Some colleges even have classes or workshops for how to write scholarship essays. Take advantage of these resources!

Email Address

While a cute or risqué email address can seem clever among your group of friends, it can send the wrong message to a scholarship committee, or the professors at your college. When applying for scholarships, avoid email addresses that use nicknames or profanity, that are offensive, or that have sexual connotations. Instead, create a professional email address to use for scholarship applications and professional correspondence. Keep it simple and straight forward by using variations of your first, middle, and last name.

Personal Statements & Essays

A scholarship is a financial investment in someone’s potential to succeed. It’s based on past experiences, the possibility of making a difference, and the embodiment of the core values of the organization or person sponsoring the scholarship. As a student applying for scholarships, think about what can you do to demonstrate that you are a worthy investment. What story can you tell that will make someone want to invest in you?

OSAC (Office of Student Access and Completion) uses four topics in their application. At Lane Community College, the Foundation (the source of scholarships specific to Lane) uses the same four topics in their applications. A student may use the same answers for both OSAC and Lane Community College’s applications. Check the college you plan to attend and see if you can find their essay questions. Chances are good,  if it’s an Oregon school, it will use the same questions as OSAC.

OSAC’s application limits the number of characters you can use in a response. This is different from a word limit. Be sure to find out if the application you are completing uses words or characters in the directions for space limitations of answers.

  • Explain your career aspirations and your educational plan to meet these goals. Be specific.
  • Explain how you have helped your family or made your community a better place to live. Provide specific examples.
  • Describe a personal accomplishment and the strengths and skills you used to achieve it.
  • Describe a significant change or experience that has occurred in your life. How did you respond and what did you learn about yourself?

Sometimes students worry that they don’t have a good answer to the questions posed by the scholarship application. Your answer doesn’t need to be a world-saving event. It needs to show your personality and qualities that will be worth investing in. Finding small stories to tell will make better statements when you only have limited characters to use.

The personal statements and essays in a scholarship application are the place a student can set him or herself apart from the other applicants. Sitting down and writing an inspiring essay in 1000 characters or 150 words can seem like an impossible task. One way to get started is to write something less structured. Start with writing a story about a challenge or obstacle you’ve overcome. Stories like this are good for showing your unique experiences and demonstrating that you have what it takes to be a successful student. This can be a fun way to start thinking about yourself and your experiences in order to find topics to use for personal statements and essays. It’s your story – you can’t get it wrong. In the examples below, you can see a few different types of responses to one of the OSAC questions.

Describe a personal accomplishment and the strength and skills you used to achieve it. (Use no more than 150 words)

Last year I volunteered with the Art Support Services. Art support is a part of Burning Man’s infrastructure that facilitates everything involving massive art installations. Being my second year I went from being a simple volunteer to a volunteer trusted with the duties and responsibilities of a radio. My job entailed communicating with the artists, figure out where they were in the building process then decide what heavy machinery they needed. Next I would radio Heavy Equipment to inform them of the artist’s needs. The most important skill I gained was appropriate radio communication. I learned how to change channels and proper radio etiquette. On the radio I used terms like “ten-nine”, “copy that”, or “affirmative” a personal favorite. Having a radio was a huge feeling of accomplishment, because I got to play a part in coordinating all the pieces that made the art come together.
~ Student #1

  • What kind of person would you say Student #1 is?
  • Does the person seem dependable?
  • Would this person follow through on a task he or she was given?
  • What qualities stand out for you about this person when you read this personal statement?
  • Would you invest in this person’s future?

Coming back to school after twenty-five years is an accomplishment I’m very proud of. I didn’t graduate from high school when I was supposed to, so the first strength I used was faith that I could come back and do it now. I definitely needed a little courage, going from a forty year old server in a restaurant to a first time college student was a big change. In order to figure out what I wanted to study I researched online, bounced ideas off of friends and even talked to strangers on the street. I tried to keep an open mind and think creatively about my options, and then used my experience and perspective to narrow down the long list of potential interests. Once I decided on a career path and school, I quit my job and moved to a new city, relying heavily on discipline, humor and hope. I can’t tell you how many times I thought about staying in Portland and working at my old job forever, but now that I’m in school, I’m really grateful that I didn’t.
~Student #2

  • What kind of person would you say Student #2 is?
  • Does the person seem dependable?
  • Would this person follow through on a task he or she was given?
  • What qualities stand out for you about this person when you read this personal statement?
  • Would you invest in this person’s future?

A few years ago I gathered together a group of children from my neighborhood and together we wrote an adaptation of “The Frog Prince.” We then built a stage in the back yard and spent weeks painting sets and creating costumes. When we had finished all the preparations, we pulled couches and chairs into the backyard and invited our whole neighborhood over to watch our play. It was amazing to help guide and motivate the children as they performed their creation; it took an enormous amount of organization and delegation skills to make our production go smoothly. It was incredible to be able to help our community come together and watch neighbors that had lived next to each other for years finally forging connections and becoming friends. It was wonderful to be able to see the children growing in their confidence and sharing their creation with our community.
~Student #3

  • What kind of person would you say Student #3 is?
  • Does the person seem dependable?
  • Would this person follow through on a task he or she was given?
  • What qualities stand out for you about this person when you read this personal statement?
  • Would you invest in this person’s future?
After sorting through several scholarship applications, the scholarship committee have selected three finalists for their scholarship. The scholarship committee must pick only one student to give a scholarship to. As a member of the scholarship committee, you must make a choice as to who wins the scholarship. Which student would you select and why? What criteria would you use to make your selection?

Licenses and Attributions:

Student work in this chapter used with permission.

CC licensed content, Previously shared:

A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students. Authored by: Alise Lamoreaux.  Located at: https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/collegetransition/chapter/chapter-9/  License: CC BY: Attribution.
Adaptions: Reformatted, removed some videos, and some information specific to Oregon.


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Blueprint for Success in College and Career Copyright © 2019 by Alise Lamoreaux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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