There are many myths and misconceptions about private scholarships; however, none runs deeper than the idea that only "star students" with great GPAs win scholarships.
It's natural to think this way. After all, the very idea of a scholarship is to recognize the hard work of great students. In my experience, though, star students are mostly absent from the scholarship scene—and that could equal a big-time advantage for those who do apply for awards.
"Star" Students Are Still Students
Since industry-wide data on scholarships is virtually nonexistent, the best way to learn what's going on in the mind of students is to ask them. So, I did. When asked why they have not applied for scholarships, a group of community college students with GPAs of 3.5 and higher offered a few different responses:
- "It's too competitive."
- "I don't have enough time."
- "I don't know where to look."
Sound familiar? These are the same reasons most students (regardless of GPA) give when asked why they haven't applied to outside scholarships. It just goes to show that a higher GPA does not necessarily translate to more scholarship applications.
Minimum GPA Requirements Are A Good Thing
What is your immediate reaction when you see a scholarship that requires a minimum 3.5 GPA? For many students, they assume (even if they meet this requirement) that the competition for this scholarship will be tough.
In actuality, when a scholarship provider sets a minimum GPA, they are doing you a favor—so long as you actually meet or exceed the minimum requirement. That's because minimum GPA requirements eliminate a significant portion of your competition right out of the gate.
Here's another way to look at it: There are statistically fewer students with high GPAs than there are students with low/mid GPAs overall. Thus, the higher the minimum GPA is to apply for a scholarship, the more potential scholarship applicants are eliminated.
Additionally, there is no significant correlation between a student's GPA and the number of scholarships they apply for. If a scholarship boasts a 3.5 minimum GPA, that means two things: significantly fewer students can apply for that scholarship, and only a small percentage of them will actually apply.
Great Students Aren't Always Great Writers
Scholarships are not awarded on GPA alone—the essay is actually the single most important piece of the scholarship application. Essays need to be well written, entertaining, and convincing, and provide the scholarship organizer with a glimpse into your ability to succeed.
A 2011 study by the Nation's Report Card showed that just 3% of all high school seniors write at an "advanced" level. That means there's a big chance that quality writing will set you apart. Because of this and the essay's importance, one could argue that students who wish to increase their chances of winning a scholarship should focus on their writing ability more than their GPAs.
Those Who Apply Win
There is absolutely no harm in applying to as many scholarships as possible—even if you don't believe that you have a good chance to win. Remember, so many other students make the same bad assumptions and deny themselves these funding opportunities (even the star students). All you can do is focus on making your application the best application possible—let the scholarship providers take care of the rest.