Manassas Journal Messenger | Dig deep to find scholarship ‘gems’

Persistence, hard work are the keys to financial assistance

When Lauren Ernst became a senior at Varina High School, her parents encouraged her to quit her job as a Winn Dixie cashier. They wanted her to concentrate more on her education. With a 4.2 GPA, it wasn’t her grades they were concerned about it was paying for college.

“My parents said, ‘We’ll pay for all of your expenses during your senior year. We want you to spend the time you would spend working on finding college scholarships instead.”

Serious mission

Ernst took the mission seriously and visited her high school guidance office regularly. She found about two scholarships a week that she was eligible for, and filled out the applications. It took about five hours to complete the paperwork for each scholarship.

“It was very time consuming. Most of the applications were on paper so you had to fill them out by hand. There really wasn’t a shortcut you could take except that some of the essay questions are very broad, so I used the same essay for a number of applications,” Ernst said.

The hard work paid off. Ernst’s parents have a much-reduced college bill.

Virginia Commonwealth University offered her an honor student scholarship because of her grades and SAT scores (1220) that paid for half of her tuition. She also got a $5,000 scholarship from Capital One and a small scholarship from the Varina Ruritan Club. The three scholarships covered almost all of her tuition, and she received some financial aid assistance for the remainder.

Work for each application

“I think anybody with good grades and good test scores can get scholarships if they are persistent,” Ernst said. “You have to put the work behind your desire. Plenty of people want things, but you’re never going to get those things if you don’t work for them.”

Ernst, who is now a graduate student at VCU pursuing a master of public administration degree, recommends that students focus attention on local scholarship opportunities or on those offered by the colleges and universities they may wish to attend.

“Start with applying to those scholarships offered only to your school or to your school district because the pool of applicants is so much smaller. Those are the easy ones to go after.”

Merit scholarships

Another good rule of thumb to scholarship-seeking students is to concentrate your efforts at schools with healthy endowments. Hollins University, for example, is an all-girls school with a $110 million endowment. The school is generous with scholarships.

Anyone who is applies for a merit-based scholarship at Hollins and who has SAT scores of 1100 or higher and a GPA of 3.25 or higher receives $9,000 to $17,000 per year toward the school’s $23,800 annual tuition. The better the SAT score and higher the GPA, the higher the scholarship awarded. In addition the school hosts a Batten Scholars Weekend, which is a competition among those students for one full scholarship.

Science and math awards are given to students who take and excel in math and science courses. High school transcripts and letters of recommendation are required. These scholarships are $5,000 to $10,000 annually.

Creativity rewarded

Academics are not the only criteria for scholarships at Hollins. The school also offers creative talent awards in areas such as dance, music, photography and visual arts. Students must provide a portfolio, writing sample or video as appropriate for their area. These scholarships are also $5,000 to $10,000 annually.

Also, Hollins offers a Founder’s Award for those students who are involved in their high schools or in their communities. They must provide a mini-résumé showcasing their leadership and citizenship activities. These are also $5,000 to $10,000 annually.

Honor scholarships

Washington and Lee University in Lexington offers merit-based scholarships that are well-known among applicants.

“About half of our applicants applied for W&L’s national competition for honor scholarships this year,” said John DeCourcy, director of financial aid. “Our 130 top applicants were offered very attractive awards.”

DeCourcy says the average SAT score of entering freshmen two years ago was 1510, and that honor scholarship students tend to have very high GPAs, class rankings and other special activities that make them stand out from other candidates.

In addition to national competition, strong alumni chapters around the country offer regional competitions as well. The West Virginia W&L alumni chapter, for example, offers 12 to 15 scholarships to students from that state wishing to attend the university.

And if you don’t have the grades or extracurricular activities to land scholarships, most colleges and universities also offer need-based grants and/or financial aid.

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