“I can’t wait to see what 120 degrees feels like,” my husband said to me shortly after we moved to Arizona. And sure enough, the first summer day when temperatures reached 120, he decided to go for a walk. We’re not talking just any walk around the park, but a hike where he could get out and really feel the Arizona heat in its natural element. I went with him, all the time thinking ‘whyyyyy am I doing this?’ Because I’d done it before. I’d walked in the relentless heat, feeling like the sun was drilling a hole through the top of my head, and the heat reflecting off the sand was burning my legs.
There’s a point to my story—a scholarship point. Bear with me.
Those of us who live in the Phoenix area will tell you it’s a dry heat—but no matter how we spin it, 120 degrees is just hot. There’s no way to sugar coat it. When you travel outside of the city centers and are surrounded by sand and cacti, it’s easy to understand why this state was so sparsely populated before the advent of air conditioning. The environment is harsh, dry, and appears to be never-ending. It’s not for the faint of heart, but every once in a while, if you’re there on the right day, at the right time, you can see the desert in bloom. It is a glorious sight that not everyone gets to experience—and it’s well worth the journey.
The same would likely be said by students who are searching for scholarships. The trek is long and awful, but every now and then there’s a bloom.
Getting Scholarship Dollars: Another Trek Through the Desert
The journey to obtain scholarship dollars to attend college can be a lot like a scorching, arduous walk through the desert. It’s a trek hampered by too many search options, poor search results, expired opportunities, and offers with ill intentions. Too many students become frustrated, confused, and simply exhausted by the daunting process of scholarship searching. There’s a term for it (one that fits with the desert analogy): scholarship search fatigue.
In a recent evaluation of external scholarship awards, Mark Kantrowitz, renowned student financial aid expert, estimates at least a dozen free search engines are available that can result in average matches of 50-100 scholarships per student per search engine. While that number seems high and can lead students and parents to think they have a lot of opportunities to chase, the odds of a student winning a scholarship are approximately 1 in 8. Imagine the time and energy it takes to apply for dozens of scholarships, when you only have a 12% chance of winning. The sheer number of results—and the idea of reconciling those results across multiple search tools—adds additional layers of complexity in an already complex process.
To further complicate matters, there is no way to predict how scholarship search results will be returned. There is the possibility of searching alphabetically or by application deadline, but today’s technology dictates that the results of search engines use relevancy to match top results, leaving students with scholarship search tools that are sorely lacking.
Better Scholarship Matching = More Opportunities
We can—and should—do more to help students on their scholarship search journeys. Nearly 1.6 million scholarships are provided to students outside of colleges and universities; that represents $6.1 billion in funds. However, even with all that money in play, only a small percentage of students receive external scholarships. We need to do a better job of helping students match to awards that are highly relevant to them. By automating and streamlining processes, institutions can present students with the scholarship opportunities that most closely match their qualifications, eliminating scholarship search fatigue and increasing accessibility to higher education.
When scholarship searches result in too many options, it can be detrimental to students. While hundreds of opportunities may initially offer hope, it is a false sense of hope, because the initial search results merely show scholarships that students are eligible for. An abundance of results can overwhelm students, create a sense of uncertainty, and make them shy away from applying to scholarships altogether.
External Scholarships Are a Game-Changer
We currently lose nearly 3 million students per year from the college journey due to financial reasons. Being matched with and selected for external scholarships can make all the difference when it comes to ensuring students are able to stay in school. External scholarships offer students more opportunities and control as consumers—and give students the chance to enroll at institutions that are more selective. Sixty-seven percent of students who receive an external scholarship enroll at very selective or moderately selective colleges. Additionally, there is an increase in students who attend full-time, as well as a 15% increase in graduation rates, over those who enroll with no external scholarships.
Matching Will Make It Better
One of the greatest tragedies in our current system is the number of students who leave college each year with debt and no degree. There are many ways we can begin to stem the tide of this epidemic, one of which is increasing the availability of scholarship tools, like CampusLogic’s ScholarshipUniverse that automates the search process and provides a single source for fully-vetted institutional and external scholarships. A one-stop-shop, it matches students with the most relevant scholarships that can help them get the most money possible to fund their higher education.
It is hard to imagine that something as simple as a single scholarship can have such a huge impact on student outcomes, but it can. We need to do a better job of supporting students in identifying resources outside of traditional federal financial aid and institutional scholarships. These alternative resources provide a much-needed advantage for students who are trying to navigate the difficult trek across the harsh financial desert of college funding.