November 1, 2013
Navigating the scholarship process
The world of scholarships can be a daunting one. The Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships and Awards (OMSFA) helps undergraduates foster the skills and vision that are necessary to attain scholarships fit for their goals. Here, Mona Pitre-Collins, director of OMSFA, Robin Chang, assistant director of OMSFA and Sara Stubbs, global opportunities adviser, answer some common questions regarding the scholarship process.
Q: If a student is interested in applying for scholarships, what’s their first step? What should they be doing to make themselves competitive applicants?
Sara Stubbs (SS): When I meet with students, a distinction I often start with is high school versus college level scholarships. In high school, students would write an essay and get some cash. At this level, scholarships are often designed to pursue a particular endeavor, such as study abroad or research. The first step is really for students to develop their interests by using their resources, academic or otherwise. At that point it becomes a bit easier in a meeting with one of us to determine the kinds of opportunities that will help them support their endeavors. A student who comes in and says they just want some cash is very limited in the sense of scholarship searches.
Mona Pitre-Collins (MPC): Students should become engaged and they should use their academic work to develop a stronger understanding about the kinds of things they really want to do and the bits and pieces that will help them flesh that out and help them become stronger candidates, focused, more directed in relation to the goals they’re in the process of articulating. Sometimes the bits and pieces are developed in a nice plan, most other times they’re… not [laughs].
Robin Chang (RC): In order to widen the universe of scholarships you’re considering, you have to think beyond what will just put money in your pocket for school and see scholarships as facilitating gaining the experiences you need while in school to get a job, or go to graduate school or whatever comes later on after school.
Q: What are some benefits of applying for a scholarship, even if you are not selected to receive an award?
SS: The process really encourages students to think about and articulate their particular goals. When we start talking about what a student wants to get out of a particular scholarship opportunity, they end up figuring out even more goals for the future. Not only does fleshing out their plans make their application stronger, they’re also fleshing out their plans for what they want to do next. Without having been pushed to write that essay, they probably wouldn’t have thought that far.
MPC: Students have to develop a comprehensive way of talking about why they want to do this next endeavor, and applying for scholarships really helps with that.
RC: It also forces you to talk to and get to know your faculty members. You get a lot of relationship building going on.
Q: What is the number one thing that students overlook when they start applying for scholarships?
RC: The application component that applicants don’t spend enough time on is the resume. We see a lot of lists of activities completed, without any details or descriptions of what those activities were or what the student’s role was. I think a lot of people shortchange themselves on their resume because they think they don’t have a lot of stuff to put on there, but in reality they have more than they think.
MPC: Letters: how to approach someone to ask for a letter and materials they need to give a letter writer. A lot of students ask a faculty member or staff member to write a letter, but all they give them is the recommendation form. Even in high school, you have individuals that may not remember you that well. They can look in their gradebook, but that doesn’t say a lot about an individual.
SS: Exactly. A letter writer may know the student and know their work, but they may not know about the RSOs they’re involved in, any jobs they have, or any other circumstances in the student’s life. Students need to inform their letter writers.
Q: What are some common misconceptions students have when they come in to meet with one of you?
RC: It really does takes more than just having a good GPA. Some students come in with the thinking of “My high school GPA is a 3.96, why aren’t you giving me money?”
SS: I meet with a lot of students who don’t think they are candidates for any scholarships. When I meet with them initially they say they aren’t doing anything interesting, but when I talk to them it actually really is interesting that could fit with a particular scholarship.
MPC: A lack of scholarship availability. There are actually scholarships out there that are not as well populated; there aren’t thousands of people applying to them.
RC: Thinking that you have to wait to apply for scholarships when you need the money or when you’ve been accepted into a study abroad program. If you want to do something junior year you should be thinking sophomore year what your options are in terms of scholarships.
Q: What can students expect when they meet with you?
RC: We basically help them get started. We chat with them about what they were previously involved in, what they are involved in, what they hope to be involved in, and what tools are available to them.
SS: We help students brainstorm.
MPC: We’re also a door that opens students to other resources that might be available, such as scholarships in their own department or just good programs that help them become more competitive applicants for more scholarships.
The Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships, and Awards is one of many programs within Undergraduate Academic Affairs. OMFSA is located in Mary Gates Hall 171. To schedule an appointment regarding the scholarship process, contact OMSFA at 206-543-4282.
—Jasmine Kim is a sophomore in the University at Washington Honors Program majoring in cellular, molecular, and developmental biology with a minor in near eastern studies.