Last year as she worked toward finishing her bachelor’s degree in nursing, Linda Douglas, RN, CPON, learned about a scholarship opportunity for minority nurses through the Oncology Nursing Society, a professional organization she belongs to. Douglas, who is African American, figured she wouldn’t win because she didn’t have a perfect grade point average, but she decided to give it a try anyway. “I thought, well, for sure I won’t get it if I don’t apply,” she recalls.
Her initiative paid off. Douglas, a clinical coordinator of a St. Jude-affiliated cancer treatment clinic in Shreveport, La., ended up winning the $2,000 scholarship, and her employer paid her way to the Oncology Nursing Society’s 2002 annual conference in Washington, D.C.
The scholarship was only the second one for which Douglas had ever applied. Like many students, she usually had counted herself out, assuming she wouldn’t be eligible to win anything.
The fact is, there are plenty of scholarship opportunities available to help nursing students finance their education, including many specifically earmarked for minority students. The eligibility criteria cover a wide range of interests, skills and needs. The most important rule for winning? Apply. Searching for scholarships and filling out applications is indeed time-consuming, but the hours invested can pay off in thousands of dollars.
“I considered it a little part-time job,” says Yessenia Garcia, RN, PHN, a public health nurse in Santa Ana, Calif. For Garcia, who graduated last year with a BSN degree from Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., it was a very well-paying part-time job. She managed to win $35,000 in scholarships, including a $1,000 Minority Nurse Magazine Scholarship in 2000, the $2,500 Selena scholarship and a $6,000 scholarship from the Health Professions Education Foundation.
Winning scholarships, though, requires more than just filling in the blanks on application forms. What can you do to make your application package stand out from the crowd? What do scholarship judging committees look for when they evaluate applications and make their decision? Here’s a roundup of expert advice from both winners and judges on how you can increase your chances of scholarship success, whether you’re working on a bachelor’s degree or going to graduate school.
Academic achievement is an important criterion for many scholarships, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need a 4.0 GPA to win. A solid, well-rounded record of community service and leadership activities, as well as professional experience, can go a long way toward helping you score points with scholarship committees—not to mention also laying the foundation for future success in your nursing career.
Sandra Barrera Tovar, RN, MSN, CS, PNP, a member of the Board of Trustees for the American Nurses Association Political Action Committee and a judge for the Minority Nurse Magazine Scholarships, says besides making sure that basic eligibility criteria are met, she looks for signs that the applicant has passion for nursing. She likes to see community service and a pattern of consistent dedication to community activities over a number of years. Another thing that makes applicants stand out, Tovar adds, is when they have served in leadership positions, such as tutoring or organizing food drives.
An important thing to remember, says David Singh, a nursing student at Florida Atlantic University, is that scholarship committees are making an investment by giving students money for college. They want people who will carry out their missions and bring passion to their goals. Ask yourself what you bring to the table that would be worthwhile to an organization giving a scholarship, he advises.
Singh, who has won scholarships from Minority Nurse, the Coca-Cola Company and the National Black Nurses Association, does extensive volunteer work, such as working at a soup kitchen and at an after-school program for children. He is also active in student organizations. He says he feels a deep sense of passion for the health care field. His late mother was a nurse and he wants to follow in her footsteps.
DeLana Ramirez, a senior nursing student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing who won a $500 Minority Nurse Magazine Scholarship in 2001, says her leadership positions in the Mexican-American Student Association, her work with youth in a summer program and a semester spent studying in Mexico helped give her a well-rounded background. She also gained professional experience through a job at a pharmacy and as a nurses’ aide and translator at a county clinic. “Once you get involved and have experience, writing scholarship essays gets easier because you have something to talk about,” she notes.
Getting involved on campus, in the work setting and in the community also introduces you to people who can serve as references for scholarships that require letters of recommendation. Garcia advises nursing students to form strong relationships with at least two professors or with work supervisors. “As a student, you have to make yourself known,” she explains.
The best references will come from people who truly know you on a personal as well as academic or professional level. “They know your heart and your passion, and they’re able to express that in their letters,” Garcia says.
It’s no secret that there’s a lot of nursing scholarship money to be won. But how do you go about finding it?
One of your first sources should be your school’s financial aid office, which will have information about scholarships available at your university as well as government-sponsored financial assistance. But don’t stop there.
Ramirez found most of her scholarships on the Internet. A search using the keywords “nursing scholarships” will bring up thousands of hits. Ramirez found this overwhelming at first, but in a few hours she was able to assemble a decent list of scholarships for which she was eligible. Many of them had online applications that could be printed from her computer, which saved a step in calling or sending away for an application.
Garcia, too, researched scholarships on the Internet and registered on FastWeb, a service that matches potential scholarships with students’ biographical data. But she also did research the old-fashioned way. “I went to the library and pulled out the books,” she says.
You can find a variety of scholarship guides in library reference sections. You might first want to browse through the books to get a sense of all the categories on which scholarships are based. Don’t overlook any minority nursing scholarship sources, but don’t limit yourself to those either.
Singh advises students to keep an open mind, because they may be eligible for some scholarships from surprising sources. He has applied for scholarships from such unlikely groups as the Daughters of the American Revolution and a sorority. Make a list of all your interests, activities and affiliations, and look for scholarships tied to each of those. Singh is constantly on the lookout for scholarships. Recently he even found an ad for a scholarship program on the wrapper of an ice cream sandwich treat.
Pamela Miljure, RN, BSN, who graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage School of Nursing in 2000, found scholarship sources by networking with people she knew through student and professional organizations. Miljure won a $500 scholarship from the National Alaska Native American Indian Nurses Association and an Indian Health Service scholarship that covered tuition, books and fees for three semesters.
Don’t overlook your own backyard, either. Check to see what scholarship opportunities are available in your community. For example, local service clubs often offer scholarships. While these awards may be for smaller amounts than prestigious national scholarships, fewer applicants are vying for them, which means less competition. And just a few small scholarships combined together can add up to big dollars.
When it comes time to fill out scholarship applications, you’ll want to draw on all the writing and organizational skills you have. But first, be sure to read the application instructions carefully. A surprisingly common mistake many applicants make is failing to provide all the required information.
One of the first things Tovar checks for on applications is that everything has been completed as requested by the scholarship committee. It’s a heartbreaker when talented, deserving students are disqualified simply because their applications are incomplete, she says.
After locating scholarships in which she was interested, Garcia often sent the sponsoring organizations a brief form letter introducing herself and requesting an application. She also enclosed a self-addressed stamped envelope, even when one was not requested. As she mailed off completed applications, she kept copies of everything, so she could refer to the information for other scholarships.
Some, though not all, nursing scholarships require candidates to submit an essay as part of the application package. Many of these essay requirements are similar, such as asking you to describe your plans and goals or to give a life history. After you’ve applied for a few scholarships, Garcia says, you can develop a template essay, then customize it to include the information appropriate to each audience.
The essay should be personal and honest and should give the scholarship committee an idea of who you really are. “Tell them what you’re made of,” is how Singh puts it.
But keep in mind that your own personal feelings and sensitivity are not enough to win scholarships. Kem Louie, RN, PhD, FAAN, president of the Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association and a judge for the Minority Nurse Magazine Scholarships, says judges want to see evidence of your dedication and compassion through a solid track record of involvement at your school and in your community.
“If you feel you do indeed qualify for the scholarship, it is important to speak well to these qualifications with examples,” she adds. “This is not the time to be shy.” She also advises making sure the application and essay are well written and free of typographical errors. Ask a friend, fellow student or colleague to proofread them for you.
And finally, don’t leave completing the application until the last minute. Give yourself plenty of time so you have a chance to let someone else look it over, in case you missed something or need to reword a section, Miljure says.
As the saying goes, you can’t win ‘em all. But don’t let any initial rejection prevent you from applying for more scholarships. Garcia applied for several scholarships from her local community college, figuring she had a good shot at winning them. But she captured only one, and it was just $250.
Garcia felt a little discouraged, but she didn’t give up. Instead, she kept applying for both local and national scholarships, and ended up snagging the prestigious Selena scholarship, named for the late singer. Relatively few such scholarships are given each year nationwide, and only a fraction of those are in areas other than the performing arts.
Singh says he occasionally feels disappointed when he doesn’t win, but he pushes forward anyway. In 2000, for instance, an alumni association turned him down for a scholarship. Nevertheless, he applied for it again the next year—and won.
Remember, adds Tovar, that there is a great deal of competition for scholarship dollars. There may have been many highly qualified applicants, so don’t take it personally if you didn’t win. A rejection doesn’t mean you don’t have potential to win the next time around. View the application process as a learning experience. “Look for any areas of weakness that you can improve,” she advises.
When you do win, send a thank-you note to the sponsoring organization, and make sure you apply for the scholarship the following year, too, if it’s renewable. Continue to look for scholarships throughout your college career.
Douglas, who will graduate with a BSN degree in November from Northwestern State University College of Nursing and plans to continue on for a master’s degree, says she will soon start looking for graduate-level scholarships. Her number one piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid to apply.”
Here are some Internet resources to help speed up your scholarship search: