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Part 3: How to be competitive

So, you’ve heard about all of these different kinds of scholarships and now you want to know: how can I make sure I am competitive?

Probably the most valuable advice I can give you is to start early. Students are often surprised by how early deadlines are and how much planning has to go into an application. A good rule of thumb is that you should start the application process at least 6 weeks before a deadline (for smaller awards), between 3 and 6 months ahead of deadline for larger awards, and 6+ months in advance for the major scholarships.  This will give you plenty of time to order transcripts, request letters of recommendation, and write (and revise) application essays.

Starting early also means learning about awards that might be a good fit for you early in your college career—as a freshman or sophomore. For some of the most competitive awards for post-graduation or graduate school, thinking ahead can help you plan what kinds of activities to get involved in, how to spend your summers, etc.

Another good piece of advice is to be realistic and choose wisely.  If you don’t have the time to put into writing a good application or you and your fellowships office staff decide that you don’t quite fit the criteria for a certain award, it might not be a good use of time for you to apply. Also, try to have a Plan B. Since these scholarships are competitive, having a back-up plan (or two) gives you some peace of mind that one of your plans will probably work out.

For some of the major scholarships, you need to develop your resume. Try to select activities that fit into your goals and professional plans. Explore programs offered by your university in your first few years, then you might look outside your university for other opportunities that match your interests. Also, try to make your summers productive: look for paid internships or funded research opportunities.

Finally, stay positive while working on an application! These awards require written essays that can really force you to think deeply about what you want to do, what makes you unique, your strengths and weaknesses. You will have to write and re-write numerous times, as you become more clear about what you want to say. It can be intimidating, scary, frustrating, and discouraging! But challenging yourself to articulate what you are passionate about can be a great learning experience and really help you understand what you want out of life.

Working to put together a strong application can also help you improve your writing skills and your ability to discuss what experiences have shaped your perspective. That can only help you later on the job market and in your career.

Whether they win or not, though, I truly believe that students who complete a nationally competitive scholarship application gain a lot in terms of assessing their strengths and weaknesses, perfecting time management and organizational skills, improving their writing, and gaining confidence in pursuing their dreams.

Guest Blog Author, Ms. Jeanne Sokolowski


Jeanne Sokolowski is the director of the Office of National Fellowships at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. She was a first generation college student when she attended Rockford College in Illinois and, for many years, had no idea about the world of scholarships! She stumbled upon information on the Fulbright program and went on to receive a Fulbright research grant to South Korea in 2002. She subsequently earned masters degrees in education and English, and published several articles on Asian and Native American literature before falling into and in love with the field of fellowships advising.

Competitive National Scholarships: Why You Should Make Friends with your University’s Fellowships Office Staff!

Did you almost skip reading this blog post because of the word “competitive”? I’m glad you didn’t. You might have a better chance of receiving a competitive national scholarship than you think!

This is going to a be a three-part post. In today’s entry, you’ll learn about what a scholarships/fellowships office does. The next two parts will cover different types of scholarships and how to be competitive.

Part 1: Scholarships/Fellowships and what those offices do

First things first: the questions most students at my university ask me (so I’m guessing you are curious, too):

  1. What’s the difference between a scholarship and a fellowship?
  2. What does your office do?
  3. How competitive is ‘competitive’?

Scholarship vs Fellowship

The short answer is that it doesn’t really matter. One definition is that fellowships are for graduate school, while scholarships usually apply to undergraduates, but again—the difference is not that important and the terms are used interchangeably. You might also hear the words “grant” or “award” thrown around, too! The important thing is that this is money from external sources (anything outside your university).

The Work of the Office

Most of my work involves getting the word out about scholarships to students and then helping them understand if they are eligible, if they would be competitive, and how to apply. I hold information sessions for various scholarships and I also visit classes or student organizations and speak about specific scholarship opportunities. On my website, I keep an up-to-date database of scholarships.

The first big decision students make is whether or not to apply for a scholarship. “Eligibility” refers to the non-negotiable aspects or what is mandatory for you to be able to apply. This might include being a U.S. citizen, your year of graduation, your major, etc. “Competitiveness,” on the other hand, is how well you fit the profile of an ideal candidate and whether you have the qualities that particular scholarship is looking for. I help students consider if they are a good fit for a particular award, whether they have time to put together a strong application, and what the timeline will be for applying. The final decision is the student’s, but I can help answer questions and help provide guidance.

Once a student decides to apply for an award, I work with them very closely on their application. We discuss appropriate letters of recommendation (and how to ask for them). I provide support and feedback on application essays—this is probably the biggest part of my job. If a university nomination is required, I coordinate that process. For some scholarships, there is an interview; I prepare students for those, as well.

The best part of my job, of course, is when students win! and I can publicize their success.

 The Odds of Winning

A lot of students don’t consider applying for fellowships because they think they aren’t competitive with a less than perfect GPA or because they go to a state school. Not true! Sure, every year, geniuses with a 4.0 or undergrads from Harvard and Yale win some of these awards, but not all. And particularly in the case of scholarships that are funded by the U.S. government, there is a real emphasis on diversity, which includes student diversity, diversity of schools and geographic diversity!

The funding agency determines what type of applicant they have in mind and what qualities are most important to them.  Some scholarships weigh academics heavily; others don’t even have a GPA cut-off. A number of scholarships have selection criteria in which academics are balanced with other skills and qualities.

 Another factor is how many scholarships are available for a given competition. Some can be quite competitive, with only 30 or 40 students are chosen from across the entire country. Some scholarships actually limit the number of students a university can nominate, so you might have to compete with other students at your school before actually being considered in the national pool.

Other scholarships are more democratic, with a larger number of awards; these offer a pretty good chance of success if you meet the criteria. One study abroad scholarship, for example, offers around 2,800 awards each year. If you fit at least a few of their criteria, your chances aren’t bad at all.

Next time, I’ll go into some examples of scholarships and what you can get money for.

Guest Blog Author, Ms. Jeanne Sokolowski


Jeanne Sokolowski is the director of the Office of National Fellowships at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. She was a first generation college student when she attended Rockford College in Illinois and, for many years, had no idea about the world of scholarships! She stumbled upon information on the Fulbright program and went on to receive a Fulbright research grant to South Korea in 2002. She subsequently earned masters degrees in education and English, and published several articles on Asian and Native American literature before falling into and in love with the field of fellowships advising.

Academic Status Report (Or, What’s my current grade?!)

Here at my institution (a large state university in the SW), we undertake something called “academic status report (ASR)” at the end of the 6th week, start of the 7th week of the semester.    This ASR is shorthand for “what is your current grade”.  At first, I was not impressed with this requirement (it was more work for me!); but, now I have come to embrace this moment in the semester when I, as an instructor, take stock of my class and the students in it; I like to imagine that it is good for the students also to take stock of their classes and how they are faring.  If your university DOES do it, do not fear it.  At 6-7 weeks in, it actually gives you time to correct your studying behavior for the class if needed; OR, it can add confidence to your current routine — give you the nod that you are doing things well.

If your school does not use such a method, do not despair, we can help!

Step 1:  find your syllabus;

Step 2:  Figure out how many assignments (quizzes, tests, essays, discussion board posts, etc.) have already been due/completed;

Step 3 :  Figure out the total number of points each assignment was worth;

Step 4:  Figure out your score on each assignment;

Step 5:  Add up your score on each assignment; add up the number of points for each assignment.;

Step6:  Divide YOUR points earned by the TOTAL points of assignments combined.

Following these 6 steps above, will give you a percentage that is indicative of your current grade in the class.  For my class, any student below a 70% gets a notification from me.  That’s a good cut off point.  But each of can decide for yourself:  what grade do I hope ultimately to earn in this class?  Then, make your own ASR and decide if you are on the path to that grade (or higher).  If you aren’t, then NOW is the moment to make changes.  Go see the professor in office hours; go visit the teaching assistant; start swapping notes with a classmate.  Pay attention; make a plan and go get the grade you want!  You can do it!

Need help?  Email us, we can help you figure it out!

Preparing to Balance College Life with Current Life

In On the Quad, we take quite a bit of time to discuss this issue — balancing your life before college with your life once college begins.  For some students, it means moving away from home, living somewhat independently (for example in the residence halls/dorms), and being more responsible for everyday life than perhaps one was in high school.  For other students, it means continuing to live at home, commuting to college, and being more responsible for different aspects of everyday life.

But, in BOTH cases, going to college means that your interactions with your family — your role as son/daughter and sister/brother — will change.

We have lots of ideas regarding how to begin thinking pro-actively about these changes.  Some of these ideas include thinking purposefully about how to manage current family chores with school work.  For example, do you help your family by taking care of younger brothers/sisters?  By preparing meals?  By doing grocery shopping? Or, household chores (laundry, cleaning, lawn care, etc)?  If so, make a list of the ways that you currently contribute to the house and family; then, sit down with your parent(s) and discuss how these things may change once college begins.  Be realistic.  Remember:  You may feel like you have more time on your hands due to fewer classes (than high school) and less homework; but, college work will catch up with you!  Make a plan about how to use your time everyday — schedule in meals, sleeping, studying, class time, work, household chores/duties, and fun time.  With this information, your parents will see that you are serious about your college education as well as continuing to contribute to the family.  Enlist older siblings to help out!

This is a great video which tells, in first person, about one woman who is determined to go to college even though she contributes greatly to her family and their care.  As you can see in the video, her family supports her and wants her to succeed.

Start making a plan today about how to handle your role in your family and your upcoming role as college freshman!  Be prepared and ready to contribute and succeed.


Make the most of your college visit!

Everyday at my school, I see campus tours — parents, high school teachers, and most importantly YOU — prospective student(s)!  But, are you making the most of your campus visit?  Our book has detailed information about campus tours/visits and ways to make the most of them.

Here is a quick peek:

First:  Why visit?

If at all possible, visit the schools to which you are planning on applying.  You want to experience first hand the “feeling” of the campus — are there lots of green spaces and trees?  Or, is it urban and bustling?  Are the walkways well-manicured and maintained (look for good lighting and emergency assist markers)?  Do classrooms have modern equipment and desks/chairs in working condition?  Visiting a campus is like trying on a new pair of shoes — you want to feel if they are the right fit and style.

Second:  Questions to ask during the visit.

Before you arrive, find out if you can sit in on a class (ask to sit in on a lower division general education course); also ask to eat in the dining commons or resident hall cafeteria — get a real feel for many aspects of campus life (and check out the food!).

While on the visit, be sure to find out what makes an application competitive — do they have sample application essays?  How important is your SAT/ACT score?  How many units are required to be considered a full-time student?  Ask about cultural communities (religious, sports, political, service, etc).  Ask about popular on- and off-campus hangouts.  Ask about internships when you talk to someone in the major you might choose.  And, ask how roommates are matched in the residence halls.

Ask as much as you can while on the visit/tour — do NOT just passively follow the tour guide.  Tour guides are marketing the campus to you — which is great — but just like any highly valuable product, you want to know what you are buying — for the next 4 to 6 years. Ask tough and detailed questions.  Take notes and have fun!


Happy Thanksgiving readers!

Last week I attended the 114th Annual American Anthropological Association Conference (held in Denver, CO.). It is a chance for anthropologists by training or in spirit to come together, hear new research, receive career advice, meet new people, and generally connect with people in a face-to-face context. It is quite fun. One of the panels I attended was on mentorship; the things I learned in that panel, I thought I’d pass on to you.

It is important to note that you can have more than one mentor.
Mentors may be people in your own network of people — other students, for example. Students in your major, maybe. Ideally, a mentor will be someone who has a bit more experience than you have whatever your current context is. For example, if you are a first year student, you probably want to find a mentor who is at least a year above you in school — you want to find someone who has already gone through some of the same situations you find yourself in currently and still remembers what it is like.

You may also want to find a mentor who is much older (more experienced/further along) than you. This mentor will be able to guide you in bigger picture situations. This person would be someone who is thinking more about your future career (even if you don’t know what it is going to be yet) and the future you. Maybe this person is a professor or a graduate student (if they are on your campus) or an experienced campus advisor.

Finally, you may want to find a mentor that is not in your network. This could be a former teacher (in high school?) or someone from other organizations you are connected to (church, clubs, activities, etc.). This outsider perspective can be quite handy for you as you seek advice and insight from someone who cares about you but is not in a position to need to also care about the university or the institution.

What is your role as the person being mentored?

As a mentee it is important that you keep in contact with your mentors. Depending on what is happening in your own life, it can be difficult to stay in touch; but, this is critical. A mentor needs to be able to think about you in a context: across different situations, different stages of life/student progress, and different ways of being you (as you grow into who you will become). This means you will need to be sure to reach out to your mentor consistently. For mentors who are older and/or outside your institution, you should consider connecting with them at least twice a year — at least one of which is in person, if possible. They have invested in you in the past, you want them to continue that investment (time and consideration). For mentors who are closer (someone a year older, for instance), you may connect with them at least monthly, if not more.

As a mentee you want to be sure to keep lines of communication open and easy rather than awkward. You will need your mentors for help in various times including letters of recommendation and connections to jobs or internships (for example). You should feel obligated to your mentor and to some extent s/he should feel obligated to you. This is normal for mentors/mentees.

Do you have a mentor? Did you leave one at your high school? Someone who really had your best interests in mind? If so, reach out to her/him. Send a new year’s greetings mail, catching her/him up on your situation. Keeping lines of communication open is key — not just now, but especially as you grow in your college experience and move toward graduation.

Miscellaneous collection

So, what activity/activities did you engage in these past 10 days or so? Me? I went to a movie in the library (it was on language revitalization among the Lakota); I attended a fall picnic; and, I went to a 1/2 day conference which gave me recent updates about human origins. Three activities — they all were excellent ways to spend my time; I met new people; made connections and networked (and, I got to eat pizza at one event, pita and hummus at another, and a box lunch from the last one — yes, even faculty are motivated by food!). In short — I got involved last week in some on-campus events and it was excellent. I learned things and met new people. I hope you also joined some activities and met some new folks — if not last week, then do it in the coming weeks.

Next: the library! Have you explored your library yet? I will admit I am “used” to libraries; I think I know how they work. But, I also recognize that all libraries have their own organization (yes, they all may use Library of Congress as their numbering system, but which floor the A’s start on and which floors the P’s start on, isn’t consistent!). This past week I also took the opportunity to acquaint myself with my new institution’s library. I received hand outs; I talked to the reference librarian; and, I walked amongst the books. It is important to do this. Even if most of your everyday resources are online, at some point you are going to need your library (if not the stuff in it, then certainly the people in it!). Better to be somewhat familiar now, than to wait to last the minute.

You may have gotten a tour of the library during orientation. But, that was forever ago and you weren’t really paying attention, right? So, go back. Sign up for a tour. Ask a specific question of the reference librarian. Go to each floor of the library and just see what’s there. Trust me; it will be beneficial. My library is open 24 hours a day — it is a brightly lit spot to study, with lots of resources. But, remember — if you are there late at night (or even during the day) — study in a well-lit section where other people are also present. Don’t be all alone in one area where it is isolated. Libraries might appear to be safe, but caution is always warranted.

Go to your library! Check IT out; and check a book out, too, while you are there. You won’t regret how the familiarity of the building and the stacks (shelves where the books are) will help you later on!

Are you getting involved?

As I noted a couple of blogs back, I’m a faculty freshman! I’ve been a faculty before but I am brand new to my current institution and situation. Sorta like many students out there — you’ve been students before, but maybe your institution and situation is new. The newness might be wearing off a bit — you have settled into a routine (of sorts) and the slumpy-ness might be creeping in; I am feeling it, too! One remedy for the slumps is: ENGAGEMENT and INVOLVEMENT.

Here is what happens to me: I get email invites to attend a conference, or a workshop, or a roundtable, or even a picnic! I might get invited to have a cup of coffee or lunch with a colleague. When these events come to me, I think “Oh! I’m so busy. I have a paper to write, a book or article to read, and I need to run to the supermarket for groceries. I just don’t have time!” But, after I think those thoughts, I remind myself: I’m new here; I still (S.T.I.L.L!) don’t recognize many of my co-workers faces or know their names. I NEED to get involved, get connected, make friends, and stay in the loop. YOU need to do this, too.

Getting connected is a key predictor of future student success. The way to become connected is to begin to get involved with your campus and your new institution. Your involvements do not have to be academic; they could be sport-related, club-activity related (how many clubs does your campus have?!), or organization related. It is important for your sense of belonging and attachment to your new place. It is important to stretch your mind beyond the classroom and interact with people in various environments. Campus activities of all sorts are a great place to become meet new people, make connections, and learn new things.

You do not have to join every club or organization — I do NOT say “yes” to every event or invitation. We all need to think about our priorities — school work should be one of your top priorities; but getting involved and connected needs to be up at the top, too. You will see, over time, that they can complement one another. And, you will probably have fun, too!

See you at the next workshop or foozball tournament!

PS: If you already feel you are connected and involved and still feel slumpy, go check out your campus counseling services. They are a great resource and typically included in student fees (thus you have pre-paid and they are just waiting to help.)

Settling In

How is your settling in progressing? Are you still getting lost — I found the BEST map of my new campus at the Disability Resource Center counter, which happens to be on the first floor of my office building. You know how I found it? I asked the person behind the counter where a building was and she said, “Here, take this map. Then you can find any of the buildings you need.” You might think, “wow, why couldn’t she just give you directions?!” And, I admit, I might have thought that for a split second — but then I opened the map and it was BEAUTIFUL — glossy, vivid colors, a print that was large enough to read without holding it next to my nose. What a gift! Lesson of this interaction: Ask for help when you need it!

Have you found the various places on campus that have the resources you need to be a healthy person? This is critical. A new environment (even in the same old city/town) will have different access and locations for those resources. Think about the following list:
1. Health clinic (including pharmacy)
2. Gym/workout facilities
3. ATM/bank
4. Dentist
5. Counseling

Obviously, your campus has many resources that are specific to your classes. I want you to be sure to consider other resources that you should have at the tips of your fingers in your new place.

Locate the campus health clinic. If your campus does not have one, find out what clinic students go to when they aren’t feeling well. You do NOT want to wait until you are ill. On my (new to me) campus, I found out that even faculty can go to the health center if they are ill at work (!); and, my new institution provides free flu shots for everyone! (This is seriously something to take advantage of — early on. You do not want to be sitting next to sneezing/sniffling folks without SOME protection.) At my old institution, the health clinic offered a free eye/vision exam every year to students. A resource that many students weren’t aware of and therefore didn’t take advantage of. Find out what your fees are ALREADY paying for and then be sure to take advantage of each of these opportunities! Also make sure to know where to go for dental services — some campuses may offer them, others may not. Find a nearby dentist in case you have a dental emergency; ask your institution if your student health insurance will work for dental emergencies or preventative care. Know what your options are!

Most campuses have gym privileges for students. Find out where your fitness center is; or, what kind of fitness courses are offered. Again, take advantage of these resources early and often. Exercising helps reduce stress, helps you concentrate better on your courses, and generally makes you feel better. Plus you can make new and different friends from those you sit next to in class. It will be fun!

Where is your nearest ATM/bank? Be sure you have access to money and resources when you need them. If the ATM near you isn’t part of your banking system, look online or call to find out what fees you may have to pay to use that ATM so you aren’t surprised later on.

Finally, ask at your health center (once you locate it!) what kind of counseling services are available to students. Most institutions offer psychological counseling services — they are typically included in your student fees; be sure to ask. And, then, even more importantly — take advantage of these services. The counselors are there to listen to your anxieties, your problems, or your joys. Give them a chance! They are typically impartial, objective, and good at listening. Be sure to give them a try.

As you settle in, don’t forget to settle in your physical and mental health — it is critical to be a “good student” — alert and well in the classroom, ready to study, make friends, and have fun!