Exclusive Interview: Alicia Hayes, Scholarships/Fellowships Advisor at U.C. Berkeley, on How to Win Scholarships, Financial Literacy and More
Posted By Carrie Wiley on May 7, 2015 at 9:45 am
Alicia Hayes has been an advisor in the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarships at U.C. Berkeley since 2001. In this role, she manages the scholarship selection processes for several prestigious and nationally competitive scholarship and fellowship competitions, in addition to maintaining U.C. Berkeley’s Scholarship Connection website. Alicia is also an active member in the National Association of Fellowship Advisors (NAFA) and currently serves on the NAFA Board of Directors and as the organization’s secretary. Alicia was the first in her family to graduate from college and holds graduate degrees in History and Public Administration. In her spare time, she continues her involvement with students by serving as a mentor to first generation college students. Alicia is passionate about making educational enrichment opportunities more accessible to every student she encounters.
GoodCall’s Carrie Wiley had the opportunity to chat with Alicia over email about college scholarships, financial literacy, and more:
Carrie: What would you say are some common myths that new students believe about scholarships?
Alicia: I believe that many students think they have to receive perfect grades, be the president of a dozen clubs or organizations, start their own non-profit, and qualify to receive need-based financial aid in order to be a good candidate for a scholarship. This is most definitely not the case. There are many types of scholarships for all types of students.
Carrie: What tips do you give students who are seeking out and applying for scholarships?
Alicia: I always recommend that students start the scholarship process early. The process of searching and applying for scholarships may take a number of weeks or, more commonly, months to complete. For some scholarship processes, successful candidates may start applying for funding at least a semester in advance of a deadline. It should also be known that the organizations that award scholarships may take several months to receive and review applications, shortlist finalists, select recipients, and award funds. Also, one must remember that in many cases, scholarships that are applied for during the current academic year are payable for the following year, should you win. Therefore, if you are searching for scholarships to help pay for the current year, you may be out of luck. Advance planning for scholarships is a necessary step in successfully applying for and receiving funding.
Once a student finds a scholarship for which they wish to apply, time management is key in completing the application. You need to plan how to complete the application prior to the deadline. Yet scholarship applications differ greatly in what materials are required, and the amount of time to complete or obtain them must be taken into consideration. There are scholarships that simply require the completion of an application form that contains some biographical information and little else. Many require some type of personal statement, essay, statement of purpose, or proposal. Letters of recommendation are also often a requirement. In addition to these materials, many applications may also call for resumes, transcripts, personal financial data and other information. The varied materials required when completing applications take time to assemble.
- Letters: I usually recommend that students give letter of recommendation writers ample notice and information to complete them. One month in advance is usually the minimum amount of time to request letters. If you request a letter far in advance, you can provide your letter writers with gentle reminders at specific intervals as the deadline approaches.
- Statement/essays: Few individuals can complete a quality draft of a personal statement or essay in one sitting. Usually multiple drafts are required before the perfect piece of writing is produced. For some of the more prestigious scholarships, students often start the process of writing drafts several months in advance. One student who won the Rhodes scholarship wrote over twenty drafts of his personal statement before he had a draft he was satisfied to submit.
- Transcripts/ other documents: Many scholarships require official copies of transcripts. Remember that you are dealing with school bureaucracies and regulations. Although your registrar’s office may state it will take only five days to receive a transcript, you need to add in a time buffer for possible delays (postal service delays, processing delays, etc.). If you plan to be out of the country and you need a transcript or other materials, plan in advance how you will obtain them by the deadline.
Carrie: What do you think is the most important thing a student can do to increase their chances of winning a scholarship award?
The scholarship application as a whole creates a portrait of who a student is, so that potential award-givers can determine if that person is the right candidate for a scholarship. I think that students need to be authentic and genuine in their personal statements and in their responses to questions. Do not try to fit the archetype that you might believe the foundation seeks; rather, just be yourself and allow your own personality come through.
Carrie: Many students don’t really think about footing the bill for college until after graduation, and they end up with a large amount of student debt and no plan to pay it off. What can students do to be more proactive about financing their education earlier?
Alicia: First of all, let me preface my response by stating that I am not an expert on financial aid and I do not advise students on financial aid policies or options… However, I don’t quite agree that students do not think about the cost of their education until after graduation. In my experience, many students are aware of the potential debt they are required to pay once they complete their education. Moreover, they recognize that accepting loans and the like may be necessary. However, I believe that financial literacy is a key part of recognizing the reality of paying for college. Students need to take the initiative to learn how the financial aid system works at their institution. They also need to think ahead into the future on how they might be able to pay back any borrowed funds. Scholarships are a wonderful option to take the place of loans. A scholarship is free money that does not have to be paid back (although some may have tax liabilities). Scholarships can supplement loans and other types of aid, thus reducing debt. Therefore, students should be proactive is searching for scholarships even before they apply to college and never stop the process of searching for funding for the subsequent academic years.
Carrie: Is there anything else you think new students should know about the scholarships application and awards process?
Alicia: A possible monetary award is only one of the benefits that can be gained from the process of applying for scholarships. Also think of the benefits of going through the process. Through the scholarship application process, students learn to connect their academics with activities. They build relationships with professors and others, who may not only write letters of recommendations but who might also become life-long mentors. They learn how to craft their own personal narratives, and in the process learn about themselves, their interests, and the issues of the world. If you embrace and approach the process of searching for scholarships as an intellectual challenge, not unlike the courses that challenge you everyday, you will definitely reap many benefits, whether you receive one or not. However, the best piece of advice I can offer is you cannot win if you do not apply!
This essay has been edited for clarity and length.