Persevering Through the Scholarship Application Process

By Tyler Wilkins

During his senior year of high school, Matthew Brantley didn’t know where to start in his scholarship application process. With few resources readily available from his school, Brantley took it upon himself to conduct individual research, combing through scholarship after scholarship in the hopes he’d receive a few of them, he said.

Brantley, a senior international affairs and political science major at the University of Georgia, found scholarship success, landing a competitive $20,000 Coca-Cola Scholars Program scholarship and several smaller sums of money from local scholarships.

“I can’t imagine what it would have been like not to have them,” Brantley said. “It’s basically the only thing keeping me from going into debt while going through school.”

Carlynn Greene, a senior broadcast journalism major at the University of North Texas commonly known as the Scholarship Guru on social media, found herself in a similar situation to Brantley before starting college. Reaching out to counselors and finding many answers herself, she navigated the process, securing 25 scholarships totaling $90,000.

Amassing a wealth of knowledge about the scholarship process, Greene shares it with others through a YouTube channel, her book “The Scholarship Algorithm” and a course by the same name. Greene also tutors students and workshops their applications, and she said many students struggle with writing scholarship essays.

“A lot of people don’t know how to write in a persuasive writing style,” said Greene, who has helped students across the world win more than $1.2 million in scholarships. “It shouldn’t read like a resume; it has to have some sort of humanizing element to it, because that’s what really sticks with the reader.”

In terms of scholarships to avoid, Greene said to stay away from ones which do not require an essay. If a scholarship application only asks for contact and other personal information, the organization advertising it may send candidates unsolicited emails, she said.

Greene said students should also steer clear of scholarships with odd requirements. Often advertised on popular scholarship websites, there are some scholarships which call for tall or blue-eyed candidates, and these are considered “scholarship sweepstakes,” she said.

With the dizzying number of scholarships out there, Greene said it helps to focus on scholarships with lower applicant pools, particularly scholarships tailored to a specific group of candidates. Of the scholarships received by Greene and the students she helped, many came from organizations and societies relevant to their major.

Brantley said he recommends students to seek out teachers who wrote scholarship recommendation letters for previous students. Based on acceptances or rejections in the past, these teachers may know which scholarships are worth investing time into the application process.

It’s unlikely for a single student to receive every scholarship for which they apply, but it’s important to keep applying, Greene said. Throughout her senior year of high school and her time in college, she applied for more than 100 scholarships. While she didn’t receive every single one, the scholarships she did receive will allow her to graduate from college without debt.

The scholarships Brantley received fully paid for a study abroad to Italy and helped lower the overall cost of attending college, he said. While rejection can be discouraging, Brantley said students should persevere and continue to seek out scholarships.

“There was no scholarship where the award was too small,” Brantley said. “It was no surprise to me, but the rate of rejection is very high. I think that’s why it was important to keep plugging away because, eventually, I wound up with several that I was quite proud of getting and that were really big helps in paying for college.”

Tyler Wilkins is studying journalism at the University of Georgia. He is a 2020 Cox-SABEW Fellow, a training program in partnership with UGA’s Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management & Leadership.

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