Tips for Online Students Seeking Scholarships

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Search online for scholarships, Begin by searching for scholarships that are specifically for your grade in school. For instance, there are many scholarships designed for high school seniors. The best place to begin in the US is the U.S. Department of Labor’s scholarship search, here, which searches over 7,000 scholarship opportunities by category and other keywords.

  • If you are currently enrolled in college, there should be some resources through your school’s website that will help you find scholarships. You should also search for scholarships within your institution that are designed for continuing students.
  • There are scholarship-specific search engines that you can use to find potential scholarships. Some of these include Fastweb, Scholarships.com and College Board.

When Ashley Dale, a 31-year-old from Schenectady, New York, decided to go back to college and earn her degree online, she knew she’d need a scholarship to help cover her tuition and fees.

Dale started searching online, reviewing foundation websites and trying to find scholarships related to her journalism and human rights studies major.

“I struggled with it,” says Dale, a senior at University of Massachusetts—Amherst’s University Without Walls, a bachelor’s degree completion program that allows adult students to choose from a wide range of online courses. “There were scholarship orientations, but I couldn’t go because they were on-campus. But I had a great adviser. For online students, the key is to stay in close contact with their academic adviser, at least on a weekly basis. They know where the money is.”

Since then Dale – who worked with her academic advisor and a study abroad adviser – has earned three scholarships, including the Jeffrey C. Taylor Educational Opportunity Scholarship, named after the Monster.com founder who is an alumnus.

“Just because you’re an online student doesn’t mean you don’t have access to scholarship money,” says Melanie DeSilva, director of marketing, communications and recruitment at UMass—Amherst’s University Without Walls. “The reality is that a lot of scholarships don’t ask the question if you are taking classes online or not. They want to know your major, your financial need and where you’ve attended school. The fact that you plan on taking your classes online is irrelevant.”

Some universities are starting to offer scholarships that are specific to online students or open to any enrolled student.

For example, Pennsylvania State University—World Campus, the online arm of Penn State, offers multiple scholarships geared specifically for its distance students. UMass—Amherst’s University Without Walls offers multiple scholarships – like the Taylor Educational Opportunity Scholarship – ranging from $500 to $2,500 that are specifically geared toward online students.

Tips for Online Students Seeking Scholarships
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Tips for Online Students Seeking Scholarships

1. Shop around for schools that offer the best scholarships: While brick-and-mortar schools have to cap their class sizes based on their physical lecture hall space, online institutions aren’t as confined to those constraints.

“An online student is in a really strong position to be a savvy shopper,” says Jason Baker, a professor of education and doctoral program chairman at Regent University. “It’s a different mindset, but students should shop for college the way we buy a car or a house. Negotiate with schools in hopes of waiving associated fees or reducing tuition. Pit one school against another in order to reduce costs.”

The key, he says, is not to get too attached to one institution, but look for scholarship opportunities instead. “It’s a lot of work, but you have to spend time exploring,” he says.

2.Start early and follow up: It’s also important for students to ask when they should apply for a scholarship, and not wait until two weeks before school starts, says Keith Brender, Kaplan University’s interim dean of students. Once students receive scholarships, they should ask how to maintain them – if there is a minimum credit load or GPA requirement – so they will be eligible to receive them again, he says.

For example, Toussaint Williams, an associate pastor at Oakwood University Church in Huntsville, Alabama, has earned four scholarships while taking online classes as a doctoral student at Regent University.

After initially receiving a $5,855 scholarship from Regent to cover the 2010-2011 school year, Williams wrote a thank-you letter to the donors, mentioning that his wife and he were both in school and struggling to pay tuition. That note made all the difference, Williams says. It opened the door for additional scholarships, including two that have each covered 25 percent of his tuition.

“One of the biggest challenges of being away from a brick-and-mortar school is missing out on some of the connections,” Williams says. “So you still want to create a personal touch when you receive funds, but you have to be transparent enough to let other people know your needs.”

It’s also important for students to ask when they should apply for a scholarship, and not wait until two weeks before school starts, says Brender. Once students receive scholarships, they should ask how to maintain them – if there is a minimum credit load or GPA requirement – so they will be eligible to receive them again, he says.

3. Consider alternative sources: Online students shouldn’t forget to look for scholarships on the ground – and closer to home. Local businesses in their hometowns, current employers and faith-based organizations that might be willing to offer scholarships.

Both Williams, and Keri Ingraham, who is getting her doctorate​ in Christian Education Leadership from Regent University, earned grants from their respective churches that Regent matched.
Getting good grades and making a connection with your professors doesn’t hurt either. Ingraham, who lives in Auburn, Washington, said keeping a 4.0 GPA – as an online master’s student – landed her on the dean’s list and helped her cultivate professors and mentors to improve her chances of earning a scholarship.

Ingraham suggests building​ relationships with professional mentors, which can help you get glowing letters of recommendation. “You always want to be mindful of what can set you apart,” she says.

Students should also be creative in how they search on the Internet. “You never know where you are going to find a scholarship,” says Dale, who earned the prestigious U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, which granted her $5,000 to study postgenocide restoration and peace-building efforts in Rwanda and Uganda. “It’s always in the most random places.”

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