A new Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) student organization has been formed to assist parents and students with identifying options to pay for a college education.
Scholarship Sharing, created by student leader Lorraine SantaLucia, will host a Scholarship Fair to assist students and families with the scholarship application process. The free event will take place on October 9th and October 10th from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the VCU Student Commons, located at 907 Floyd Avenue on the Monroe Park campus.
“We have one goal. It is to help students graduate from college debt-free,” said SantaLucia, Scholarship Sharing’s Founder and President. “We’re students, too, so we know the hardest part about finding scholarships is not knowing where to look,” said vice president Emily Rouse, “that’s why we help students find and apply for scholarships and motivate them to complete applications.”
During this expo-type event, students and their families can learn about college funding options in a friendly and welcoming environment. Representatives from community foundations and VCU departments will be available to speak to students. It will be a ‘one-stop shop’ opportunity for all students who are considering higher education to apply for traditional and little-known grants, scholarships and internships.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the average college student will graduate with over $24,000 in debt. Scholarship Sharing advises students to apply for scholarships regardless of the award amount, small or large, to cover some of the costs.
The year-old organization has identified scholarships for a variety of students including academic achievement, creativity, ethnicity, nationality, gender, career choice and grade level. It maintains a listing of available scholarships and deadlines on its website and Facebook page.
“Each of the participating organizations has money to award that will help students pay for their college education,” informed SantaLucia, “and several have opportunities for students to continue growing in their career.”
“Most students might apply for a $10,000 scholarship, thinking if they get it, then they don’t have to apply for any other scholarships, but that’s not realistic,” SantaLucia warned. “Oftentimes there is more competition from other students who are thinking in that same mindset. On the contrary, local foundations, stores and restaurants, have opportunities that do not get as much publicity, and as a result, has fewer applicants who apply. However, if you are awarded two $500 scholarships, it equals to the same as one $1,000 scholarship, which adds up,” she explained.
The Scholarship Fair will be similar to a career fair, except rather than networking for jobs, incoming freshmen, undergraduate as well as graduate students can network for college funding.
“Participants will have an opportunity to meet foundations and VCU departments, in person, to ask questions and learn about an organization’s programs for college success, and their application process for their individual scholarships,” said Rouse, vice president of Scholarship Sharing. She is a sophomore fashion design and business major.
A senior public relations major, with a minor in Business and Spanish, SantaLucia said they wanted students to meet face-to-face and have an opportunity to network with different reputable organizations.
“We wanted students to meet with the grantors on a more personal level and not just see a list posted on a website. A lot of times, some students think the organizations don’t really exist,” she acknowledged.
As a precaution, the organization conducts research to determine if a group who is sponsoring a scholarship is legitimate. They ask questions such as how long the organization has been in existence, how many scholarships have been given in the past and whether or not the organization is a registered 501(c)3 organization.
Throughout the year, Scholarship Sharing updates its lists of scholarship opportunities to match applicants by individual specialized lists. For example, there are lists just for high school students, minorities, veterans, and women. They also offer students peer reviews for scholarship essays, on-line webinars, and on-campus workshops.
“There are tons of scholarship opportunities available,” Rouse said, “Partner organizations send us their lists and we share ours with them. It’s all about raising awareness. Many go unclaimed because people are unaware or don’t apply. We encourage everyone to apply; even if you don’t think you are qualified, you may still be eligible.”
By tapping into social media networking sites such as Facebook and Tumblr, Scholarship Sharing has helped students harness the power of being internet-savvy and always being connected. SantaLucia and Rouse advise students to apply early, read the eligibility criteria carefully and follow the instructions. “A lot of the scholarships ask some of the same types of questions,” said Rouse, “however applicants should not have ‘cookie-cutter’ responses. It should be original.” she stated. They suggest tailoring an essay or answers for the specific scholarship.
The Scholarship Fair will be free and open to the general public. Students attending any high school, community college or university are invited to attend. There will be a military appreciation section of the fair, where active duty, retired, and reservists and their dependents can inquire about college funding options for each branch of the military from participating organizations.
“I would bring copies of my resume and dress professionally in order to make a great first impression,” Rouse recommended, “there may be judges on-site who will decide the outcome of your scholarship application”.
Founded in the summer of 2012, Scholarship Sharing has been recognized by VCU with three awards including: Best Student Organization of the Year, Best New Organization, and Best Special Interest New Organization.