Navigating the World of Scholarships

Monday, March 25th, 2019


A scholarship seems simple enough, you apply and if you get it, you receive financial aid. This is all well and good, but collecting hard data on these scholarships can, in some cases, be fairly convoluted. Some scholarships are easy to explain. The Chatham High School PTO Scholarship, for instance, offers a $2,000 scholarship to the applicant with the highest GPA. It’s straightforward and cuts right to the chase. It is also a rare exception in the world of scholarships.

Adding up to about $67,000, these scholarships are a big deal, which is why it can be slightly frustrating that the descriptions of some of these scholarships are fairly vague. Take the Jane and Ken Schroll Scholarship, which gives a scholarship of $500 to a student “who embraces the necessary commitment and determination to reach for their dreams.” Another example is the Nicholas F. Rizzo Fine Arts Scholarship, whose description in full reads that it “is given to a graduating Chatham High School senior who will be pursuing a college major and career in the art field.” This scholarship goes to only a single student, and since there isn’t an additional application or essay required, it makes me wonder how the student is picked.

My complaints about scholarships go beyond the selection process, as even details that should be obvious can seem a bit obscure. The reason I mentioned earlier that the scholarships add up to about $67,000 is because there is no way to identify the exact amount spent in total by the 32 groups giving out scholarships. For example, the CHS Athletic Booster Harvey Cohen Scholarship explicitly states “the recipient, if any, will be a Chatham High School senior…” meaning that a scholarship is not guaranteed to be awarded. The Chatham Jaycees Scholarships does sort of the opposite, as nowhere in its description does it explain how many scholarships they’re giving out, just that they’re worth $5000.

My purpose in writing this is not to lament against the charity of organizations giving free money to students who will put it to good use. I’m not that petty. I’m merely trying to understand and explain a system that can be the determining factor of whether or not someone is able to attend college. For a process that’s so important, it would be preferable if it could be more transparent, to make it easier for kids to understand what it would take for them to be awarded a scholarship. It’s also important to remember that there are now apps like Scholly and RaiseMe, which act as another way for students to get matched up with scholarships. Colleges have been getting more expensive for decades now, and they show no signs of slowing down. Even if you were to receive all $67,000 offered by the Chatham groups (which you can’t because they are several duplicates and ones specific to gender, residence, financial situation, and a wide ranging list of other parameters), that could only about cover 4 years in-state education at Rutgers, and would only last you one year going to a private school. Even those who aren’t currently seniors, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start thinking about organizing scholarships sooner rather than later (or just read this article about 3 weeks after the due date to submit your applications).