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March 9, 2011 / Brent Sears

Bulletin Boards and Giving Gifts

Opportunities and Noise

I started this habit in college and I had forgotten about it until the other day when I was at my local library.  There on the bottom of the board was an application for a Light Work Grant worth $2,000.  I’m not a photographer but I know someone who is.  She is amazing and the one thing she lacks, more than money, is confidence in her work.  (I’m not kidding, she is really good.)

There was only one application on the wall, which left me with a moral dilemma – do I take it?  I did, and I am going to give it to her as a gift.  Here is an opportunity for her to break out and get into something that could take her into the career that she loves.  At worst she could find out what they are looking for and work for an entire your to win next year.

But I know what she is going to say inside her head.  Things that we all inwardly think before we take the leap to start our art…I am not good enough.  Other people will beat me.  The judges will probably laugh.  I didn’t go to school for this.

So I have decided that this gift is going to come with a second gift.  I am going to invite her to sit down with me and write out a list of all the reason she won’t win.  All those fears that are holding her back.  Then, if she is still interested, I am going to tell her why I think she should move forward and apply.  If she takes it, then great, and if not then that is great too.  It was just a free way to give a gift…sometime all people need is someone to encourage them and tell them they can.

Assignment: Start scanning bulletin boards and emails looking for opportunities to give gifts to those you care about.

March 8, 2011 / Brent Sears

Bulletin Boards and Scholarships

This may seem old school, but whenever you pass bulletin boards take a few seconds and see if anything catches your eye.  I can’t tell you that you will find a scholarship, but there are plenty of opportunities during a year that can increase your chances of winning an award that other people will miss.  This can be at your college, high school, post office, community center or local library.  Speaking events in your area, department internships, and part-time jobs are sometimes posted in the weirdest places, so keep you eyes up and active.  You may check 30 different boards over the course of 6 months, but you may find an opportunity that will change the trajectory of your life…the worst thing that can happen is you waste 1 minute of your life (x) 30 bulletin boards.  Can you risk it!?

Assignment: Find a friend and go to a random bulletin board with the intention of doing one thing listed there.  I guarantee you will learn something…even if it’s that you don’t like Canadian polka music.

March 6, 2011 / Brent Sears

Scholarship Scams

$25,000 Scholarship with NO ESSAY

I applied for one of these when I was a students and wound up getting a ton of SPAM emails.  When I filled out the online form I figured it was a scam but I gave it a shot.  With what I know now, no one gives away a $25,000 award unless they have serious money backing them.  And if they do, then they will also have a website that looks professional with a lot of contact information.

These huge, no work prizes are simply people who set up a website and put out an unbelievably easy deal to get your contact information.  There is never any award, and they simply sell the list of names they gather from the people who signed up.  It is not worth putting your personal information out there and getting all the junk.

A simple rule is that if you can’t trace a scholarship to a reputable source, no matter how much or how little it is for, don’t bother with it.  These offers are designed for lazy students who want to get something for nothing.  What they end up getting is a lot of crap for nothing.

March 5, 2011 / Brent Sears

The Alternative to Scholarship Work

The alternative to scholarship work is per hour work.  I have done my share of per hour work, and for most jobs available to high school and college students you learn all that you are going to in the first few weeks.  But there are some advantages.

In per hour work you get a fixed amount of pay for each hour you work.  If you show up and do what is required you will get paid.  You get a check every week or two as long as you keep showing up.

Usually there isn’t a lot of thinking involved, so when you are done you don’t take the job home with you.  There isn’t a lot of personal investment on your part.  The responsibility of planning, organizing, and coordinating is usually on someone else.

But is the per hour job helping you advance in the direction you want to go, or are you doing it for the money?  It is more than alright to take a job to help you get through.  Buying food and paying rent are important to most people.  What you need to be working toward is a job that pays you, and helps you toward your goals…per hour work that is part of scholarship work.

March 4, 2011 / Brent Sears

Scholarship Work

Scholarship work is different than the alternative type of work, which I will cover tomorrow.

Scholarship work takes planning, searching, researching, writing, reference chasing, and executing of deadlines.  It takes initiative and the chance that it might not pay off.  It takes putting yourself out there and seeing if you get selected.

Scholarship work means telling that voice inside your head to shut up when you hear that list of excuses why you won’t win.

Scholarship work means investing – the earlier you start the better the chance you will have of gaining a return.

March 3, 2011 / Brent Sears

Smart Scholarship Research

So let’s say you have found the award.  This is going to sound stupid, but make sure you read EVERYTHING. Then go back through and read it again.  You need to pay careful attention to the details.  Who’s giving the award, how much is it for, how many criterion do you meet, etc?  Your job is to make yourself the best candidate for the award and that means spending a little time digging for information.

Ten years ago I would have told you to go to offices around campus that are connected with the award and ask questions.  See if you can meet with an advisor who can tell you more about details that may not be in the printed material.  This is a great idea because anyone you meet with will most likely be involved in the process.  Some awards do not go out every year due to lack of funding or other issues, so it is good to know that the award is active and how many are going to be given out.  You’ll be amazed at what you learn by simply asking.

In today’s world go to Google.  Do a search on the scholarship and see if you can find a list of past winners.  Scholarship winners often times get announced in local newspapers or campus postings, so take the time to look.  If you find a former winner look them up on Facebook and send them a message.  As a former winner of a scholarships there is no reason why they won’t share information with you.  If someone asks me about the Gilman Scholarship I will talk their ear off.  Most other winners I have ever met would do the same.

Other places you may want to look at are Youtube and WordPress.  Just go to the site and do a search.  See what/who pops up.  You’ll be amazing what you can find!

The biggest thing is to start your search early, make the connections, and align yourself with the award.  Most students don’t put in this kind of work.  That will give you a huge advantage.

March 2, 2011 / Brent Sears

Scholarship Applications

Surprises are great if it is your birthday, but not if you are applying for a scholarship.  You want to gather as much information about each award as possible – as early as possible.  This process is about planning, and the students who are able to find awards early, and then do the work to apply will be far better off than those who do everything the day before.

Find out if the application will be submitted on paper or online.  Once you know that find out as much information as possible about the application.  This seems like a no-brainer, but you would be amazed at the number of students who won’t bother to read what needs to be submitted until the last minute.  Whoooppps!  I need (2) letters of recommendation by tomorrow?! It really happens so don’t be that students.

For online submission you may not be able to see the application unless you log in.  Here is an example of a national scholarships that I won.  When you go to the page it makes you fill out the profile information so you can start the application.  You don’t have to submit it in order to go through it.  You can log in ahead of time and come back when you are ready to apply.

So the first step after you have found the award is to READ the entire application.  Tomorrow I will write about how to research scholarships.

March 1, 2011 / Brent Sears

Scholarship Gatekeepers

From the time you submit your application, to the time the final decision is made, it is important to understand how to think about the process.  People are judging you – be it by your application or by what they know of you personally.  That can be intimidating, and you will most likely feel the pressure when you are completing your application, but don’t worry.  Everyone else is going through the same thing.

Prepare well in advance to finish your essay and application.  I didn’t do this when I was applying for my scholarships to Ecuador and it was agonizing to push it until the very last day.  Many people say they need to stress to preform, but that is usually anxiety talking.

That is why it is important to build a small team of people to help you with the process.  Make sure you have someone to proofread the essay, and let them know about the deadline well in advance.  Make sure they are detail oriented people who will catch mistakes and possible misspellings.  It is also possible to have one of the administrative assistants in the office you will be submitting the form to look over your application before you submit.  Be careful with this though!  You don’t want to ask them questions that you could have easily found on your own.  Be human and tell them that you are really counting on this award and you want to make sure it is perfect.  The good people will make time for you and help you through it, even if only with moral support.

The thing about the administrative staff is that they are the most involved in the process.  They know what is going to happen from start to finish and they are the connectors between you and the scholarship committee.  They will most likely email the list of winners to the proper office.  So knowing this, if you are nice, you can probably get more information about the process than is published on the website.  They may be able to fill you in on the awards, their history, how many are available, and so forth.

That is why office staff can be invaluable at helping you figure out how to best approach the award.  Tomorrow I will talk about writing the application.

February 28, 2011 / Brent Sears

After Scholarships Are Submitted

It is a good idea to know where you scholarship goes when you submit it.  In the last few years more and more institutions are going toward the online submission process, but there are still some paper applications.  Regardless of which format is used someone is going to receive the scholarship applications in order to process them.

The office in charge of administering the scholarship will most likely receive it.  An administrative assistant or a secretary will most likely check each application to make sure they are complete and everything is in order for the next step.  They also need to make sure that the committee is in place and the evaluation criteria is attached.

Once everything is collected and organized, the selection committee either gathers to review the applications together, or they are each given access to the materials for individual review.  They are also given a rubric in order to rate each application.  Often times the standards for winning the award will be the same as what was listed on the scholarship information that was available for all to see.

Once the selection committee has completed their review, one of two things will happen.  The first possibility is that a senior administrator will take the recommendations of the committee and make a final decision.  This person may have the power to overrule the committee.  Or the administrator will simply look at what the committee has done (he or she will most likely be on the committee) and sign off that everything is complete.

Guess who gets everything from there?  It’s the administrative assistant or the secretary.  They  will then contact the foundation in charge of dispersing the money and announce the winners.  From this point on if there is any question about the awards it will be handled by the office staff.

Tomorrow I will touch on this same process, but how an applicant needs to think in order to approach it successfully.


February 27, 2011 / Brent Sears

The Best Academic Connectors

Secretaries know EVERYTHING!  Or at least everything that goes on the in offices where they work.  If they have been there more than a year then they have a pretty good idea of what happens in an office, how it functions, and who does what.

Why is this important to you?  Because inside your school or college they will be the one who can connect you with the people you need faster than anyone else.  They know students, teachers, professors, administrators, and other secretaries.  They also know “the word on the street” and if they have a question they almost always know where to go to directly find the answer.

Some people overlook secretaries, but that is a HUGE mistake.  They can be the most helpful people in navigating through college…they were for me!