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Scholarship and Grant Tips for Nontraditional Students

Scholarship and Grant Tips for Nontraditional Students

Returning students can qualify for plenty of scholarship and grant opportunities.

By Jose Vasquez, author of Free Cash for College: The Everyday Students' Guide to Financial Aid

April 21, 2009

Like many nontraditional students, I found the process of returning to school intimidating. Worries hung over my head. How would I pay my bills? Support my family? Pay my tuition?

It was those questions that drove me to begin my own scholarship hunt. I used FastWeb, asked friends and kept my eyes open.

Yet when I found scholarships I was eligible for, I became worried as I filled out the applications. Many of them had essay questions like:

  • What is your greatest strength?
  • What types of community service have you performed?
  • Why does your background make you an ideal candidate for this award?

I knew that I would be competing against high school students who, I believed, had better applications. They had time to perform community service and play sports, and many of them had better grades. I, on the other hand, had dropped out of school to support a family and didn’t have time to volunteer. I perceived these as weaknesses to be overcome.

However, by following the steps below, I was able to transform these weaknesses into scholarship qualifications.

Step 1: Identify Your Strengths

Write down what you believe are your strong points: personality traits, life experiences, lessons learned. It could be anything from your work ethic to how you raise your children.

Step 2: Write Down Your “Weaknesses”

The word “weaknesses” is in quotes because what you perceive as a detriment may, in fact, be the very thing that sets you apart from other applicants. Take an honest inventory of what you believe may work against you.

Step 3: Make Your Weaknesses Your Strengths

As you look at your list, you may be thinking, “How can this help me?” To start, pick one of your weaknesses from the list and ask yourself these questions:

  • How did I cope with this experience/weakness?
  • What good qualities/traits did this experience bring out in me?
  • How has this made me a better person?

For instance, I didn’t finish high school because I needed to help support my family. I believed that not having a high school diploma was a drawback. However, I tried to convey to judges how this experience was actually a show of character; it displayed strengths such as responsibility, determination, hard work, family loyalty.

Each life experience – positive or negative – is a lesson learned. Those lessons should be the theme in your scholarship essays and applications. Put your best foot forward and make your strengths shine through. You will be surprised at the effect it has on your applications… and your wallet!

Jose Vasquez has been awarded 27 scholarships totaling more than $100,000 in aid. He is a public speaker and the author of Free Cash for College: The Everyday Students’ Guide to Financial Aid.


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