How to win scholarships

5 Really Dumb Reasons Why You Didn’t Get That Scholarship

Who doesn’t like free money? College students, apparently. For all the portrayals of broke students eating ramen noodles, they stubbornly refuse to apply for scholarships, or they apply for them in the most half-assed of ways.

Tuition averages $30,000 a year at private schools and $8,000 at public schools. Despite this, many students ignore scholarships. According to a couple of financial aid officers interviewed, here are the five most common — and outrageous — reasons why people don’t apply for scholarships…

1. “I thought the deadline wasn’t actually a deadline.”

Sara D., a financial aid officer from a public university in the Midwest, tells this story of a deadline-adverse student, which she says is typical…

A scholarship came across my desk that very few students actually qualified for, so I emailed two or three potential applicants who came to mind. One of those students submitted a completed application on time.

The second student sent a partially finished one and politely asked for an extension due to a family issue.

The third student submitted her application about three days past the deadline. When I asked why she waited until after the deadline, she answered that she thought that the deadline was a guide! Obviously, the scholarship committee didn’t want to give a scholarship to someone who couldn’t follow a basic deadline.

Students don’t realize that many scholarship rules are completely arbitrary — they exist simply to see if students can follow them. Monica P., a retired financial aid counselor for a private college on the East Coast, explains. “Even the smallest scholarships’ award committees want to see that you care about their funds. The most basic way you can show this to them is to follow the guidelines. Don’t disrespect them by submitting an incomplete or past-due application without a good excuse.”

2. “Scholarships are only for elite students.”

“One of the most common and distressing excuses I hear is, ‘Why bother? I don’t have a 4.0,’” Monica says. While many scholarships are “merit-based,” most rely on a myriad of factors that dilute GPA: faculty recommendations, essays, and lists of activities or accomplishments, just to name a few.

Monica recommends students find ways to make themselves stand out from the crowd. “Whether you’re into social justice or you really excel at writing personal essays,” she continues, “make the person awarding the scholarship know this. Flaws in an imperfect GPA can be forgiven for someone who is unique.”

3. “I didn’t want to be rejected.”

Many school-awarded scholarships are judged by professors or advisers, which means students might be judged by the same faculty and staff members they see every day. That can be uncomfortable if you lose out.

But Sara D. urges students to remember: “Rejection is tough,” she concedes, “especially when you know who made the decision. But it is part of the process. You’ll be rejected many times in life, but we’re often rewarded for being persistent and showing courage. Apply and apply again!”

4. “There’s too much competition.”

A scholarship that offers a lot of money surely will entice a lot of applicants. Monica says this is the top excuse she hears from students who don’t apply.

But both financial aid officers say it’s not true. Just like the stereotype of the beautiful woman who’s too intimidating for anyone to ask her out, the best scholarships often have the fewest applicants.

“Because so many students are intimidated by the size of the applicant pool,” Sara explains, “many of the best candidates do not actually apply! It’s completely ironic, but it pays off for students who do put in an application.”

5. “The application would take too much time.”

The dumbest reason of all is this one. If it takes five hours to apply for a measly $500 scholarship, that’s like getting paid $100 an hour.

“No one can force a student to apply,” Monica says. “Financial aid offices are more than happy to help, but I would say 60 to 70 percent of students do not take advantage of it because they feel they do not have the time. Down the road when loans become due, I’m sure they will look back and regret not spending that hour or two on scholarship applications.”

Sara concludes, “It’s essentially your money to lose. Scholarship committees want to give this money away, and they look for students who actually deserve it. You don’t have to be the best. You certainly don’t have to be the most gifted. You just have to show that you’ll use the money to better yourself and your education. It’s as simple as that!”

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