Students: Follow the path to scholarship salvation - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Students: Follow the path to scholarship salvation

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Stacie Spring is a general assignment reporter for the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-5645 or sspring@evtrib.com

Posted: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 12:36 pm | Updated: 7:40 pm, Wed Jan 11, 2012.

It's getting to be that time of year-when scholarship deadlines are about to expire.

Whether you currently attend college or are looking forward to the fall when you start your freshman year, it's never to early (or too late) to start looking for scholarship money.

Every year, billions of dollars worth of scholarships are open to students to compete for, according to FinAid.org, a non-profit website that helps inform students about their financial aid options.

If you're a senior in high school senior planning on attending college in the fall, many of the scholarships out there are aimed for you.

Often times, universities automatically apply students for scholarships when they apply for admissions, but that should not be the end of the scholarship hunt. For many students, attending a four-year institution or out-of-state college can seem out of reach, but by applying for multiple scholarships, those expensive dreams can be within reach.

To best understand how to reach those goals, I've spoken to Sam Lim, the founder and executive director of Scholarship Junkies and Fulbright Scholar himself. Scholarship Junkies is a website designed to help students nationwide (and sometimes even worldwide) get the best advantage while searching and applying for scholarships. Some tips from Lim:

1. Apply for multiple scholarships.

The only scholarship you're guaranteed to not get is the one you don't apply for. It's just like when you apply for colleges, sometimes you have reach schools - in this case national scholarship awards - that may be more competitive. Other times you need to apply for smaller or local scholarships that come with higher odds of winning (since fewer people apply). Any money is free money.

2. Determine how you stand out.

Not all scholarships are given based on grades or financial need. You don't need to be a perfect student to win a scholarship.

"Why do you do the things you do?" Lim said he asks students. While your grades may not be a perfect 4.0, being involved in after school activities, clubs, sports or volunteer work can benefit your student profile.

By showing how you choose to spend your free time, it shows what kind of person you are.

That being said, quality is better than quantity, Lim said. You shouldn't do things just to pad your application. Choose things that interest and matter to you.

3. Get feedback and help on your essays.

This doesn't have to be a teacher, but most English teachers will be willing to look over essays to help guide you in the right direction (at least mine was). There suggestions with flow, fluency, grammar and topic can be really helpful when it comes to making your essay stand out.

Trade essays with friends. Have your parents look over it. Email it to a cousin or older who is already in college. Get as much helpful feedback as you can.

This area is where Scholarship Junkies differs from other scholarship sites. They offer free essay feedback within a 24 to 48 hour period with a relatively easy upload tool on their website. They give detailed, in copy notes along with an overall summary on how to improve, Lim said.

Even if you feel it might be a silly question or if you have a hard time asking for help, through Scholarship Junkies, former scholarship winners will edit and provide feedback on your essay within two days.

4. It's okay to talk about your challenges.

Grades give a very short story when it comes to your academic success. And sometimes family situations can prohibit those outside activities that sound so good on your application.

If you have to take care of your younger siblings or have dealt with a serious illness, it's more important to show that your time is being spent well, Lim said.

5. Show some passion.

Most scholarships are offered to students who can show they're a good investment, Lim said.

If you can translate what you enjoy doing into a career direction or an area of study, that can mean the difference, Lim said. Connect what you enjoy doing and learning to what you plan on doing in the future.

Although you may not know exactly which major you will chose, finding an area that interests and energizes you can put you at the top of the pile.

And if you hate writing essays, try to find alternative scholarships where you can make a video, write a poem or submit a portfolio.

6. Search. Search. Search. Here's a couple jumping off points from my days of scholarship surfing along with a few new ones from Scholarship Junkies:

•Fastweb.com

•Scholarships.com

•Collegeboard.com

•Scholarships360.org

•Zinch.com

For more information on scholarships and free help on your essays, go to www.scholarshipjunkies.com.

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