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New Years Resolutions: Win College Scholarships

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Happy New Year! It’s a new year and a new decade… time for a fresh start. If you are in college, or plan to attend in the not too distant future, financing your education is no doubt a major concern.

And with good reason! The cost of college is skyrocketing and we all know what the economy is doing.

While college loans are ubiquitous and an important financing component for many, many American students (nearly 50% take out loans, according to most studies), borrowing for college isn’t always the best solutions. Here’s why: You have to pay back the loans (duh!) and that means you are going to be limited post-graduation to a “good paying” job. The more your borrow, the more you have to pay and, therefore, the more limited your career options are.

We’ve talked in the past about creative ways to pay for college and to make it more affordable. But one of the best ways to pay off your college bills is with someone else’s money… i.e. to win college scholarships. Whether it’s $100 or $10,000, college scholarships are “free” money. You earn them by virtue of your good grades or your unique talents or your excellent essay writing skills, or just your good luck.

Most of the time, scholarships winnings are sent directly by the committee to your school, reducing the balance on your bursar’s statement. Which means scholarships pay for tuition, room, board and fees. Sometimes textbooks. Rarely, a scholarship committee will cut you a check, which means you can really use the money however you see fit. Although, obviously paying for your chem class is a wiser choice than financing a new Xbox.

Typically, I use Friday on this blog to attempt to motivate you to apply for scholarships by listing three opportunities with upcoming deadlines. This Friday, however, I want to change things up a bit, in honor of the new year, by highlighting four qualities that scholarship committees are looking for. If you don’t fit the bill, maybe you can take on adopting these qualities as your new year’s resolution!

1. Academic Accomplishments

Even if you aren’t applying for a MENSA scholarship, most committees do take into consideration your overall commitment to academics. At a bare minimum, they want to see some kind of indication that you take your studies seriously. For some scholarships committees, this means you need a minimum GPA to qualify. Others look more at the breadth and depth of your academic profile — what your major is, what types of courses you have taken beyond the basic requirements, any academic awards and honors you have won, and what your professors and advisors have to say about you in their letters of recommendation.

2. Work/Internship Experience

Scholarship selection committees are interested in seeing how you relate to the world outside the proverbial ivory tower. Have you worked (or interned) in a capacity that demonstrates responsibility and commitment? Do you take initiative? Are you a go-getter? A self-setter? Aside from a work history on your resume, a great way to demonstrate your commitment level if with strong letters of reference from your employer/supervisor.

3. Volunteer/Community Service

In addition to earning a paycheck (or college credit, in the case of an internship), scholarship committees are increasingly interested in your volunteerism and service to your community. They like civic-minded applicants, who give of their time and talent to a cause other than themselves.

A great way to highlight your community service orientation is to write your scholarship essay about how volunteering has impacted on your academic or career ambitions, what have you learned from serving the community, or why being a volunteer changed your political beliefs. You can also submit a letter of recommendation from your volunteer supervisor, praising your commitment, dedication, selflessness and maturity.

4. Leadership

You don’t have to be class president to be a leader — although it certainly can’t hurt! Leadership can mean showing initiative, building consensus, motivating people, or tackling change. To show that you are leadership material, focus your scholarship essays on how a pivotal leadership opportunity has shaped you as a person. Also, seek letters of recommendation from people who can speak to your leadership qualities.

So, let’s talk New Years resolutions. What are you resolving to accomplish in 2010?

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