Scholarships: What to know and how to apply

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Financial aid opportunities have helped countless students fund their higher education endeavors. These grants allow students to focus on getting their degree rather than worrying about how they will afford their schooling. Thousands of scholarships come up every year, offered by schools, employers, private companies, nonprofits and other professional and social organizations, providing plenty of routes to choose from.

Scholarship application

Graduate programs like the MBA can take one to three years to complete, with online and part-time courses enabling students to hold a job while going to class. Pursuing a scholarship to relieve financial concerns during this time can be beneficial to your wallet and your overall goals. Students need only know what to look for and how to apply to ensure a smooth experience.

Important things to know

Graduate students may come back to school looking to build or change their career prospects. In these cases, it may have been some time since you first applied for scholarships for your undergraduate degree. There are a few critical things you should know when pursuing financial aid grants:

1. There are different kinds

Scholarships come in a number of types and differing amounts to help students reduce education costs. Some are merit-based, which are earned by meeting particular standards set by the scholarship provider. This could include maintaining a certain grade point average or obtaining achievements in other areas like sports and the arts. Currently, 80 percent of students in University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business online MBA program earn merit-based awards. These applicants must demonstrate a personal drive, passion and a positive impact in the workplace and community.

Other scholarships might be geared toward particular groups of people, such as women and military families. There are also grants that are awarded based on where you or your parent works as well as your financial need. Some organizations will even offer graduate scholarships to students pursuing a specific field of study.

2. They are just part of the plan

Obtaining a scholarship can be a critical component in your education payment strategy, but it likely won’t be able to stand alone. Most students will need to rely on a combination of different types of financial aid to save money on college costs. Scholarships range dramatically in award amounts and likely won’t cover the full price tag on their own. Don’t overlook smaller scholarships, as these are often paid directly to the student via check, enabling him or her to pay for school-related costs like books.

Look into how much a potential scholarship provides, as well as other grant and loan options. Students should also complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid every year to see if they’re eligible for student aid, gain access to low-interest federal student loans and qualify for work-study programs. Above all, don’t take yourself out of the game or underestimate your eligibility.

3. Watch the deadlines

Each scholarship has a deadline attached to it. Most of these due dates will be in the spring or fall to prepare for the upcoming semester. FAFSA, traditionally, could not be submitted before January 1, as it is based on your tax information from the previous year. However, that changed in fall 2016, when students could submit an application for the 2017-2018 school year using tax filings from 2015. Individual states and schools can also revise their FAFSA calendars freely, so it’s important to track the date for your specific area or institution. Missing the scholarship deadline will forfeit your eligibility for that year.

To stay on top of each due date, use a calendar or planner. Mark down the name of each scholarship and its deadline and schedule time to get all of the necessary materials together to meet the grant’s specifications. This level of detail will help you track multiple scholarships and ensure your application is received on time.

Searching for a scholarship can be challenging if you’re not sure where to start. Understanding the different types of scholarships available to graduate students, watching your deadlines and applying for multiple kinds of financial aid can make this process a smoother and more rewarding experience.

Steps to apply for a scholarship

Once you have a scholarship or grant in mind, it’s time to apply for it. Follow these steps to successfully submit your scholarship application:

1. Start preparing now

Even though a scholarship deadline might be weeks or months away, the application process can take a long time. Beginning your preparation right away will put you in the best spot to fill in the necessary information and send out your form on time. Starting early will also allow you the chance to revise and improve your application, rather than procrastinating and turning in a sloppy form. A clean, concise application can heighten the chance of being awarded a scholarship and will only come with ample preparation.

2. Check the qualifications

When applying for a scholarship, it’s not only important to ensure that you chose the right one but that you meet all of the eligibility requirements as well. Each grant will have a variety of different specifications targeting things such as GPA, specific groups of people, the field of study and other characteristics. Read through each requirement carefully and be honest with your qualifications. By focusing on scholarships that match your interests, skills, and characteristics, you can heighten your chance to receive aid.

3. Gather necessary documents

Scholarships might require a number of documents to be submitted with your application in order to qualify. For graduate students, many grants will require the following:

  • • Letters of recommendation in work or academic spaces
  • • Certificates of previous education, such as a diploma, transcript of records, etc.
  • • Motivation letter
  • • Resume

Some scholarships will need a Language Certificate for international work and study participants. These individuals should take the test through widely accepted programs like Test of English as a Foreign Language and International English Language Testing System. But be aware that it takes some time to prepare for these exams and receive the results.

There might also be some grants that require examples of past work or a written essay. Give yourself enough time to assemble a portfolio of your best work or create an essay that will stand out. Review the scholarship details closely to ensure that you have all of the necessary documents before sending your application.

4. Fill out the information

Some grants can be sent online, while others might use hard-copy forms. In both instances, it’s important to ensure that you read questions carefully and fill out everything completely. For handwritten applications, the information must be printed neatly to ensure any potential viewer will be able to read it. Any sloppiness or blank information can lower the chance for scholarship awards.

Schools might also have scholarships that students are automatically considered for based on their characteristics or academic performance. Contact the admissions office or scholarship giver if you aren’t sure if you need to fill out an application.

5. Send it before the deadline

If you have all of the necessary documents, are eligible and have filled out the application form, it’s time to send it. Make any improvements or necessary adjustments prior to the deadline to ensure your forms stand out among other candidates. Keep hard copies of every document on hand to send if anything goes missing and to apply for any other grants. This will prevent you from having to start over if you want to pursue additional financial aid opportunities.

Compile all of the forms into one envelope and print the address clearly to ensure that it reaches the right office. Sending it out ahead of the deadline will not only help it get to its destination on time but also relieve some of the pressure as an applicant. The scholarship provider should tell you when to expect a response. If no clear time-frame is listed, be sure to ask, as any awarded grants can impact the amount you have to pay as well as other aid offerings.

Pursue MBA-specific scholarships

Smith School of Business MBA students have a number of financial aid options they can pursue to pay for some or all of their online MBA costs. In addition to federal student loans, applicants of the online program are automatically considered for merit-based awards. The Smith School awards these scholarships to a select number of students based on scholastic merit, evidence of leadership and professional accomplishment. Students who are active members or veterans of the military, or are University of Maryland Collage Park alumni are eligible for scholarships as well. Be sure to note on your application your military status and if you are a graduate of UMD to ensure you are considered for those awards.

Scholarships are a necessary aid to alleviate higher education costs. Out of 1.8 million graduates, 1.2 million students receive grants per year. By understanding what to look for in a scholarship and how to apply, MBA students will be able to find a grant that fits their qualifications and reduces the price of graduate school. Be sure to read scholarship requirements carefully and fill out any applications on time. Don’t hesitate to call the admissions office or the scholarship giver if you have any questions about your eligibility for a scholarship.