Many speech and hearing sciences students experience the incredible financial burden of higher education, especially considering the entry-level requirement of a master’s degree. As a lower-income student, finding strategies to apply to scholarships and paid opportunities has been a critical element to reduce my out-of-pocket expenses and improve my odds of being accepted to graduate programs. Although your relevant experiences are important, how you apply should also be taken into account.
During my sophomore year of college, I began proactively applying several strategies that I’d learned toward obtaining promising opportunities. It worked, and I finally started getting paid opportunities and competitive scholarships.
Simply put, there’s a definitive strategy to winning these competitive opportunities that can enhance your leadership, give you tangible work skills, and/or support a struggling college budget. As someone who had zero speech-related experience before college and zero scholarships out of high school, these are the strategies that I’ve used to find and win increasingly new and exciting experiences.
1. Maintain Patience Upfront
The mental struggle of beginning to apply for scholarships and paid opportunities is the most difficult part. I’ll be frank: Submitting your first application is the most difficult because you have less experience within the field, may not have leadership roles, and don’t have a prior record of successful scholarships or special opportunities.
So first, make sure the opportunity is even worth your time to begin with. Let’s reframe the time it takes to apply: Overestimate and assume that it takes 60 hours of work to win your first $1,000 scholarship, divide that $1,000 by 60 hours—you get $16.66 an hour. That’s above minimum wage virtually anywhere. Since the potential is so great, I always consider time meant for applications as an essential three-credit class. Compiling in advance every opportunity for which you are eligible and forcing yourself to make time will lead you to success.
2. Pick Specific, “Complicated” Opportunities
There seems to be an endless supply of scholarships, summer research opportunities, and so forth. Narrowing your focus is critical to applying competitively: Seek opportunities that draw fewer applicants, have multiple parts, and align with your goals and identity. Fewer applicants naturally come with applications that are complex and require more elements (i.e., personal statement, letter of recommendation, etc.). Although it seems like more work up front, putting in this work now will pay off in the future. You’ll have given yourself ample opportunities to practice writing about yourself; by having that experience, you can then foster a closer relationship with a professor. By finding opportunities that seek individuals with your identity/status (e.g. lower-income student) or that align with your future career aspirations (e.g. school setting), you can better prepare yourself for your future while limiting the number of applications you need to submit in the first place. With streamlined applications, you can save time applying and/or invest more time into each one (and you can even save money in the process!).
3. Center the Mission Statement
There are many reasons why you stand to gain from the opportunity or funding that you anticipate receiving. When seriously applying, think from the perspective of the awarding organization. They want to “invest” in students who will best use the experience to further the goals of said organization. Study that organization’s mission statement. Identify its strategic priorities. Make a bullet-point list of every notable aspect of the mission statement to guarantee that you address each point in your application, especially when applying to more “technical” research or government positions.
4. Confidently Write About Past and Future Experiences
According to my university’s scholarship office, students tend to write well about their prior experiences but have trouble writing about their future goals. Here’s a quick rule of thumb: You’re not married to your current future career aspirations. Thus, writing with confidence is your best bet. After some reflection, if you believe that you’re currently interested in working in the XYZ setting or career, go all-in with your justification. Trying to spread yourself thin to cover all possible options is confusing for a reader. Be honest when describing your future goals—because the opportunity that you apply for may be the one that helps open the door to those supposedly “lofty” dreams!
If you don’t perceive yourself as a strong and talented writer, you may experience difficulty as you begin writing personal statements. Unlike the undergraduate college admission process, most organizations are invested in your potential—not how jarring your hook is. Creating a narrative that connects your past experiences to your future goals is better than trying to create a literary masterpiece.
5. Own Your Uniqueness and Maintain the Standard
Most applications rely on you standing out in order to receive the award. However, in the process of attempting to stand out, you still cannot neglect the baseline standards that the awarding organizations expect. Although some standards are easier to parse out (e.g., a higher GPA), having a grasp on what experiences you should have—and those you should “sell”—is critical.
One way to find the “standard” expectation is to utilize LinkedIn. For example, if you’re interested in “XYZ summer research program,” try searching the web for “XYZ summer research program LinkedIn.” The search results usually include prior recipients who have been accepted. From here, you can find a baseline of involvement that you should have; you can then establish how to distinguish yourself from the crowd.
Additionally, many organizations have no idea what audiology, speech-language pathology, or a major in speech and hearing sciences means. It’s essential that you briefly explain what you do (or intend to do as a professional) and why it’s important. When you do it well, you’ll stand out as someone with a unique major, a highly focused career goal, and unwavering passion.
6. Utilize University Resources
Many universities have scholarship offices, research centers, writing centers, and financial aid offices. Their main goal is to support students—these offices and programs have your best interests in mind. Want to get more direction? Get advice from those who have routinely dealt with countless students vying for intensely competitive opportunities. Most of these centers are available to support you—regardless of whether you are just starting to find scholarships or simply need help finding the correct “strong action verbs” when writing your personal statement.
7. Keep Master Copies
As you apply for new opportunities, having one master resume is crucial so you can borrow elements of it to write customized resumes for each opportunity. Likewise, you will eventually write multiple personal statements. Keep all of your writing together! It can really help when you find yourself applying for more and more opportunities. Yes, you must customize each application, but that does not mean you need to start from scratch each time!
One More Thing . . .
There’s a chance that you may not receive—or be accepted to—many opportunities for which you apply. It’s easier said than done, but please remember that you are worthy simply because you are a human being. If the organization cannot see that, then that is on them! Until the day we don’t need to compete for every meaningful opportunity and don’t need to break the bank to afford school, I hope that these tips will help you.