Opinion: Why scholarships are important

College is more expensive than it used to be. The College Board Trends in College Pricing 2017 report found students that attend public four-year in-state institutions paid an average of $9,970 for tuition and fees in the 2017– 2018 school year. Whereas, between 1987 and 1988, students at public four-year in-state institutions only paid $3,190 (adjusted to 2017 dollars).

With ever-rising tuition rates, many students resort to taking out student loans to supplement their educational costs. Student loans are an attractive option because they do not need to be repaid until after graduation. This not only provides temporary financial relief for families, but also allows students to focus on their studies.

However, if one is not careful, they can find themselves quickly drowning in debt. In 2017, the Consumer Finan­cial Protection Bureau estimated that more than 8 million student loan bor­rowers are in debt because of failure to make their required monthly payment. Federal and private student loan debt totaled $1.4 trillion last year.

If one wishes to avoid going into a tremendous amount of debt, they should consider applying for scholarships. Scholarships are funds that do not have to be paid back — and often reward you for your academic achievements.

This past week, I had the opportu­nity to interview Victoria Hill, the direc­tor of Student Financial Aid and Schol­arships of UW Tacoma’s Office of Student Financial Aid. When asked about the benefits of applying for schol­arships, Hill made clear that she believes scholarships are positive for any student.

“Scholarships bridge the gap for students and families,” Hill said.

Hill also said that funds from schol­arships can range from as simple as a “little extra cash” to a “complete change of a student’s experience.” Scholarships are also more abundant than one may think. They can be found just about anywhere — from one’s own univer­sity to their workplace, place of worship or a local foundation.

Plenty of students find applying for scholarships to be daunting, not to mention a time-consuming task. How­ever, the process is so worth it. Scholar­ships played an essential role in my college career. Like several students, funding was the determining factor in whether I would be able to continue my education or not. Over the course of four years, I have received 15 schol­arships. This year — my senior year — is the first time I have taken out a loan. In my experience, whether a scholarship totals $300 or $5,000, it helps to lift a financial burden off of your back.

Still not convinced? Some students shy away from applying for scholar­ships because they believe their GPA isn’t high enough, while others falsely assume scholarships are only for mi­norities or low-income students. Don’t let these myths surrounding scholar­ships stop you from applying.

“Almost all students at this univer­sity are meritorious,” Hill said. “Some foundations have funds to offer encour­agement and support.”

So, don’t discount the possibility of earning a scholarship quite yet.

Ready to apply? If you want to dem­onstrate financial need, complete the Free Application for Federal Stu­dent Aid application which opened Oct. 1. The last day to complete your FAFSA at UWT for priority consider­ation is Jan. 15, 2019.

Though there are scholarships which are available throughout the year, students should look for scholar­ships during scholarship season, which Hill described as typically being during winter and spring quarters to apply for the following academic year. Students can also check the UWT Office of Stu­dent Financial Aid’s Facebook page, which periodically posts scholarship opportunities on their wall.

Before applying, it is also important to keep these tips in mind:

BEWARE OF SCAMS

When asked how to spot a scholar­ship scam, Hill said the biggest thing she tells students is to never “pay for a schol­arship” — scholarships are free to stu­dents. You should also be wary of busi­nesses that ask you to perform services under the guise of a scholarship. Visit the Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships and Awards webpage housed on the Se­attle campus’ website to check a database of vetted scholarships.

CREATE A SCHOLARSHIP LIST

I am a firm believer that organiza­tion is the key to success. Once you check out the available UWT scholar­ships or utilize scholarship search en­gines like thewashboard.org, create a list of the scholarships that you are eligible to apply for. Be sure to list the scholarship’s name, the date it becomes available and its deadline and — if pos­sible — the website or organization it came from — you may find more op­portunities from said organization.

I personally use a Microsoft Word document and color-coding system to keep organized. I highlight the scholar­ship applications that I have completed in green, the scholarships I have yet to complete with the most pressing dead­lines in red and the scholarships which are not yet open in yellow.

GATHER YOUR LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION AND OFFICIAL TRANSCRIPTS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE

Students can order an official UW transcript online using MyUW. For those who would like to pick up a hard copy of their transcript in person, they must complete a transcript order form.

Letters of recommendation give funders an insight into what kind of person you are. Students will often ask for letters of recommendation from their professors or councilors, but they can also come from previous employ­ers, clergy members or former high school teachers. Generally, family members do not count, but almost anyone who knows you and can attest to your character can write you a letter.

As a courtesy, you should give your letter writer a minimum of two weeks to prepare their recommendation be­fore you apply. Remember: They are doing you a favor — the more time they have, the more effective your letter will be. Also, write them a thank you note afterwards as a token of your gratitude. And, unless stated otherwise on the application, letters of recommendation should be good to use again for at least a year after they’re written.

ILLUSTRATION BY BRUNO MARQUEZ