As the recovery from the recent economic downturn progresses slowly, scholarships are harder to come by. Students looking to supplement or fund an engineering degree can locate more scholarship options by searching online using social media and scholarship search engines. Entering many interests, searching early in the college selection process, and by being open to considering many schools, students can find funds.
One online scholarship search engine is Scholarships.com. It is for students of all ages and backgrounds who want to enter or continue to attend college. To use it, students or parents enter demographic and other background information including schools of interest and intended majors. The search engine provides a list of scholarships the student may qualify for and schools similar to those entered that may have lower tuition. A college matchmaking tool also helps find other schools based on flexible criteria such as those that offer engineering degrees.
Kevin Ladd, Scholarship.com's vice president, spoke about the current state of the scholarship industry for engineers. He says that searching online with their tool will help students find all of the scholarships they may qualify for, not only engineering.
Combining Search with Social Media
Ladd says "Using social media to find scholarships has been quite the buzz. On the second page of the scholarships.com search application, we ask if people want to include social media in their search, and allow them to add as many sites as they want."
Applicants need to make sure their pages are appropriate before including them in their profile. "People are into social media and are proud of their lives. Some have legitimate news to display," says Ladd.
He gave these tips when applying with social media: create a profile or page specifically for the college search process. Include hand-picked information, and make sure it is part of the scholarship search application package.
"We allow applicants to submit their own website, about.me, blog pages, or other manual entries. Lots of people submit at least one of these types of links or a personal statement of a few sentences or paragraphs about their volunteer experience or anything that lets reviewers know how well they are aligned with a scholarship," he explains.
Scholarship reviewers and schools filter applicants by major and read their personal statements and social media profiles. "They are looking for retention. No one wants to accept someone who will transfer somewhere else. They want students to be happy where they attend, and stay until they've earned their degree," he says.
Scholarships.com also allows users to "share this scholarship on Facebook," meaning that students can also search Facebook for scholarships. Some scholarships have Facebook pages, where people ask questions, information is given, and past winners provide comments and "thank you's" to the company for funding their education.
Fewer Large Scholarships Since Downturn
If the student's dashboard doesn't have many scholarships on it initially, the applicant can add interests, schools, or change their profile to search for more. As new matching scholarships are offered, the site notifies the student and updates the dashboard with the new matches.
Some scholarships rely on an endowment, which are funds donated for a specific purpose. Ladd explains Independent philanthropic organizations and educational institutions that have historically awarded scholarships based on an endowment typically use the interest earned on those endowments to fund scholarships.
When the economy dropped, interest rates also dropped, resulting in a smaller amount of distributable scholarship funds.
"Even the stable philanthropic organizations lost money when the economy dropped. They can only offer scholarships based on the interest of their endowments, and nobody is immune to a flagging economy. It's not just them; the economy has similarly affected other scholarship providers, such as companies, foundations, and nationwide groups." Ladd says.
"There are ways to reverse the trend: more people can donate money, or interest rates can go back up, to name a couple. Until this happens, companies often decide to either provide smaller awards to the same number of people as the year before or offer the same dollar amount to fewer awardees." explains Ladd.
Smaller Scholarships as Promotional Devices
More corporate sponsors are now offering scholarships with lower standards for point-of-entry that require very little from the applicant and also serve to promote their brand. In general, corporate sponsors often view scholarships as a way to generate goodwill while increasing brand awareness, Ladd says.
"They realize that students apply for hundreds of scholarships with the hopes of landing one, and they may not want to spend much time writing an essay. Corporations want people to participate, so they may simply require someone to tweet, make a video, or photograph themselves wearing a hat with their slogan on it."
"Social media dictates this trend," Ladd says. "If a student wants to apply to fifty different scholarships that are relatively large, over $1,000, and relatively easy, it may be worth it." He says that if a student is willing to put in the time, figure out a system to searching and applying, and begin early, it is certainly possible to find and obtain scholarships."
Debbie Sniderman is CEO of VI Ventures LLC, a technical consulting company.
They [colleges] are looking for retention. No one wants to accept someone who will transfer somewhere else. They want students to be happy where they attend, and stay until they've earned their degree.
Kevin Ladd, VP, Scholarship.com
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