Free Money: Get Some

How to Find Your Edge and Win Scholarships

By Alex Burt

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Photo Courtesy of : Keiko James, Scholarship Manager at the Peralta Colleges Foundation.

$75,000. That is how much scholarship money was available to Peralta College students this semester. Did you win any? If the answer is no, what is holding you back? Scholarships can help pay for your tuition, books, supplies, transportation, housing, study abroad, even your groceries.

The cost of community college alone has risen by over 31% and keeps on climbing, saddling students with debt, or causing many to drop out altogether, according to Time Magazine. Different from loans, if you win these funds, they never have to be paid back. Scholarships are as close to free money as you can get as long as you’re willing to put in the effort, which, according to Keiko James, the Scholarship Manager at The Peralta College Foundation, many students aren’t doing, despite most having “a good chance of qualifying for scholarships that range from $200 to $1,000” often more, up to $5,000, with a successful application.

What separates a successful application from an unsuccessful one? James says that the biggest mistake she finds when going through applications is the use of “text language” and a distinct lack of proofreading as if the applications are being submitted via smartphone. There is no reason that any application should be filled out through your phone. If you don’t have access to a computer at home, stop by one of the beautiful computer labs on any campus and complete your submission there.

Another portion of the application process that many students struggle with is the personal statement and essay section. Take advantage of your campus writing center; it is staffed with people to help you. Schedule face time with an English teacher who will help proofread and teach you ways to have your essay stand out from the rest. James stresses that “English teachers are our biggest allies.” If you are taking an English class, ask your teacher to make writing personal statements a class assignment. That way you get a grade, invaluable feedback, and take the first step towards your final application. James also makes herself available to students for appointments and is just a call or email away.

Securing a great letter of recommendation is another crucial piece of the application process that intimidates students. If a majority of your classes are online, or you just haven’t made a connection with any of your teachers, they aren’t the only place to look. If you have strong ties to your work or community, ask a church leader, a volunteer coordinator, your boss or someone else you have a solid relationship with, who isn’t related to you, to speak on your behalf.

You don’t have to be a straight-A student to qualify; there is a scholarship out there for everyone, you just have to look. There are scholarships for freshmen, transfer students, first-generation college students, international students and others” says James, “Scholarships are awarded on merit, need, and achievement in academics, athletics, the arts [and] other categories.” Chances are that one or more of these apply to you. According to James, a good portion of these scholarships are privately funded, many from former community college students who have graduated, found success, and are now looking to give back. These philanthropists have a genuine desire to help students reach their goals. All you need to do is go into the application process with a positive mindset and a plan.

Here is a tip checklist for you to reference going forward:

  • Take note of important dates. The window for applying is generally from the mid January to late February in the spring and mid August to late September in the fall. You can find these dates and other relevant information at: peraltafoundation.org
  • Now that you know the dates and requirements give yourself ample time to complete them. Set aside time each day during scholarship season to break the application up into manageable pieces.  
  • Practice. Print the application and do a run through before filling out a final product.
  • Follow instructions. It is worth double checking to ensure you didn’t miss any steps that would disqualify you on a technicality.
  • Proofread, proofread, and proofread again. A grammar mistake could be the difference between you and someone else when the competition gets fierce. Go to the writing center, get a second set of eyes, and make sure what you send in is polished. Consider downloading Grammarly, a proofreading site, onto your computer. You can copy and paste any text into the site and have it check for grammar mistakes for free. It doesn’t take the place of physical proofreading, but it’s a good place to start.
  • Make your essay stand out with a strong opening paragraph. Talk about your future plans and the steps you’ll take to get there. Don’t be afraid to talk about your hardships. They are what make you who you are, and what will speak to the committee that selects the winners.
  • Call or email Keiko James! You can reach her at 510-587-7809 or by email at kjames@peralta.edu. She can look over your application, help you upload your letter of recommendation, show you how to attach your transcript and more.

For BCC students, consider attending one of the regular scholarship workshops put on by the service community at the school where you can learn to avoid many common mistakes and put funding your education into your own, capable hands.

The best thing you can do for yourself, and your wallet, is dive in to the scholarship process headfirst and come out with free money at the end of it. Utilize every tool available to you and put yourself a step ahead of the rest.

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