Finding and Supporting Student Applicants for Nationally Competitive Scholarships
NSF GRFP, Jack Kent Cooke, Udall, NIH, Fulbright, oh my! The world of scholarships is a large one indeed; every time I think I may have a handle on one scholarship, a new one pops onto my radar, and I’m back at square one again! However, even with the multiplicity of opportunities out there, most nationally competitive scholarships are looking for the same thing: smart, driven students with the capacity to make a difference either to society or their field. Each of us has had and will likely have again, that one great student, who we know is destined for success and greatness. The question is: how do we help that student along the path to scholarship success?
The NCS office
The first line of defense for nationally competitive scholarships is the Scholarship office run through my position as Assistant Dean of Student Research and Scholarship (www.ung.edu/ncs). Half of my job is to monitor trends in scholarships, locate scholarships that dovetail with UNG’s strengths, and recruit students to apply for these opportunities. The other half of my work focuses on getting students from start to the final “submit” button. This part is the most arduous, and includes offering strategic advice, repeatedly workshopping essays, tracking down transcripts, translating “scholarshipese,” or the specific demands of the scholarship for students, and supporting them emotionally. It’s a long process; I ask students to start very early (sometimes a year early!) and complete at least 12 drafts. Yet, this is necessary. As I tell each of my students when they begin to fatigue after the first few rounds of drafting: It’s not you, it’s the scholarship.
Before I can begin working with students, though, I have to find them. This is where faculty play an integral role. You know these students; you work closely with these students; you understand them as more than a GPA. And, what’s more, they know YOU. Your help in locating these students is essential. If I send an email to students, 2 out of 100 may write me back. But, they know and trust you. And often your simple nudge, your letting them know that you think they have what it takes, is literally all it takes to move a student into the scholarship process. Simply put, I need you.
So, what sorts of students are competitive for these scholarships?
Primarily, scholarships are looking for students who are hardworking, committed to making a difference, think outside the box, and have high GPAs. However, stellar GPAs are a dime a dozen these days; really competitive students must go beyond high GPAs to stand out in one (or more!) of three other ways: leadership, service, undergraduate research. Encourage your best students to volunteer, run for office, or include them in your research projects. And then repeat all of these things again.
How else can we help support our students?
Understanding that the scholarship process is novel for the vast majority of our students is key. Many are afraid of applying and/or think they are lacking the excellence required to win. Others underestimate what it takes to get from start to finish on an application. Faculty play a key role in both encouraging and tempering dreams along the path and making sure students understand what’s at stake. More often than not, though, our largest role is just showing simple support by offering an ear or an eye to a draft.
Another key to success is focusing on the process, not the pay off. So many students begin scholarships solely focused on the money that might come through at the end. To me, this is akin to just focusing on a grade for a class, and not the learning. The application process invites students to refocus and refine their academic, professional, and personal goals. In the process of drafting personal statements, they also realize previously unrecognized traits that may serve them well in other pursuits. Finally, the process encourages them to become more involved with other professionals, including me and you. Several of our students who’ve made it to the submit button have attested that the process itself is painful, but worth it, no matter the outcome of the scholarship.
A simple plea
You all give context to the tranguid and have genuine insight into what students are capable of. If you’ve got an outstanding student, talk to him or her about scholarships. Or encourage him or her to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Here’s to our exceptional student scholars!