Not All Scholarships Are Created Equal

Little kids love coins. The size, look, feel, color and sound are enough to captivate the imagination of little ones for a while. What’s even better is that when they are still young enough, children do not care at all for the coin’s value. Children do not discriminate against the lowly penny, or demand the more highly valued quarter. They would take twenty pennies over a silver dollar, trading quantity over quality. When coins are found they are collected, treasured, and in the case of my daughter, whisked away to a princess piggy bank, complete with tiara and ruffled skirt. Beginners to the scholarship game often see scholarship opportunities the same way— as equally valued assets to be aggregated and socked away— without much thought to the quality of a scholarship opportunity. Like my daughter’s piggy bank, their list is full of scholarships, but the list lacks any real value.

If you are going to build a valuable list, you need to avoid two types of scholarships that have become extremely prevalent in today’s digital environment and represent the equivalent of pennies in the scholarship world: a no-qualifier scholarship and marketing ploys that act as scholarship opportunities.

No Qualifier Scholarships: As the name suggests, these scholarships are those that are not concerned with reducing the applicant pool. Most scholarships add qualifiers as a way of finding their ideal candidate without having to read through thousands of application submissions. The goal of a qualifier is to reduce the number of qualified applications an organization must review before awarding scholarship funds. Basic qualifiers are GPA and SAT/ACT scores, major and minor, future vocation, minority status, etc. In addition to these qualifiers, most respected scholarship organizations also request additional paperwork such as transcripts, resumes, letters of recommendations, and personal essays. Should you come across this type of scholarship, do not throw it away; instead, note that it is not a high qualifier scholarship. This allows focus on higher qualifier scholarships, while having a bank of these scholarships available should you have the time.
Marketing Ploys as Scholarship Opportunities: In today’s digital age, it is becoming more and more popular for businesses to advertise their services via the giving of scholarships. These companies are assisted in the advertising process by news outlets reporting the scholarship, scholarship sites such as Fastweb or Scholly recommending this scholarship to students, or students recommending this scholarship to their friends via social media. The buzz and traffic generated by their scholarship is far greater and costs much less than print or digital advertising would for a far lesser cost. While these scholarships appear in many forms, most of these pseudo scholarships are really only concerned with your contact information. For this reason, they look more like contests or drawings than a true scholarship application. A dead giveaway is the company requesting only information pertinent to advertisers: name, address, age, email, phone, and social media links. The ease of applying means an even greater number of competition, even more drastically reducing your chances of winning. While you may not win the scholarship, chances are you will win the email, call, and mailer awards, all offering a discount on the company’s products or service.

The suggestion to jettison these types of scholarships no doubt has frustrated some of you. I understand; it is hard to give up on a potential funding opportunity. The issue with most of these scholarships is that the applicant pool is so great due to the publicity of the scholarship that your chances of winning are miniscule. Rather than spending your time and effort on these scholarships, it is better to spend your time researching and writing for scholarships that are not nearly as well known and have qualifiers that significantly reduce the possible applicant pool.

As you begin to build your list, attempt to find scholarships that pass the smell test. If the application seems too easy, it probably fits into one of the above categories. Real scholarship applications seek to understand who you are as a candidate and how their funding will help you succeed in your educational and career goals. This is accomplished through a lengthy application, one that asks for more than your contact information, but also requires documentation such as transcripts, letters of recommendation, and essays. Online applications are should now be examined carefully, as many reputable organizations are transitioning to digital applications for time and money savings. These applications normally provide an upload feature for important documentation.

Do not be fooled by one of the most prominent myths in the scholarship process; remember, all scholarships are not created equal. Look to accumulate high quality scholarship opportunities and resist the urge to stockpile pennies.