By: Anna Landsverk
March is a crappy time of year—we never know whether to haul out the sunscreen or the snowblower, and semester fatigue and midterms can hit us in the face like an unwelcome Frisbee. But amid the storm, students need to keep their eyes on a very important prize: scholarships.
If you’re anything like me, you lazily bookmark those reminder emails about free money from the university with every intention of applying, but then you forget to check your email until a day after the deadline has passed. Sound familiar? And yet universities across the country are trying—hard—to give their students money to attend college and leave with fewer loans hanging over their heads.
This trend can also be seen at MSUM. My department (English) has been increasingly encouraging its students to apply for its departmental scholarships in recent years. Staff members posted flyers and sent countless emails counting down the days until the application was due, and some professors spoke about the scholarships in their classes to push their students to apply. The department also created one universal application for the dozens of scholarships it awards, further simplifying the process.
For our department, those efforts have paid off. More students are hearing about the scholarships, and according to English department secretary Shelly Heng, “We have had record number applications in the past few years.” She said that she discussed the issue with the chair of the scholarship committee, and she agreed that there were steady amounts of students applying for their scholarships.
Still, many people who are eligible and in need of money (because who isn’t broke in college?) are not applying, particularly at the university-wide level. They may feel that they have less of a chance at the broader upper class scholarship category, but the numbers are surprising.
According to Jessica Swedberg, the assistant director of the office of scholarship and financial aid, for the 2016-17 school year, 174 people applied for an upper class scholarship. Out of those, 136 were awarded funds. For 2017-18, 236 people applied for the upper class scholarship, and 205 received them. Utilizing our math skills, that’s 78 percent of applicants getting 2016-17 scholarships and an even higher percentage, almost 87 percent, receiving scholarships for 2017-18.
In a campus with over 5,000 students, it may seem like the odds of receiving a scholarship open to over half the campus population would be low. However, the percentages prove that not only are more than three-fourths of students who apply for scholarships receiving them, but that a very small sector of the campus population is applying at all. This is something we can all work to change.
Scholarships are an important piece of financing a college career. Many of us bemoan college debt as a serious issue, which it is. However, not everyone is considering all options for affording college available. It is important to exhaust all other avenues of aid before we reach for the (short-term) easy option of signing up for a loan. Not only are there campus-wide upperclassmen, transfer, and automatic scholarships available, but there are also department scholarships, merit-based scholarships, need-based scholarships, and community scholarships. If you apply for every possible scholarship open to you and win just one of them, you make far more than minimum wage for your trouble and put a dent in your future debt. What’s not to love?
Some students are definitely embracing scholarships as a means of helping pay for college. One student informed me that since there was nothing to lose and everything to gain, it was worth an application.
“I’ll take whatever they’ll give me,” said Cameron Schulz, a transfer student and English major. “I’ll take anything I can get, because anything is better than nothing.” Schulz received a private scholarship from the Mayo Clinic, an English departmental scholarship, and an automatic scholarship.
So come next March, read those emails, whip out your favorite black ink pen, and get to filling in those forms.