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How to snag a scholarship

Getting one is a great achievement that can also help pay for college.

It’s easy to see why accounting students are motivated to apply for scholarships. They come with prestige that can boost a résumé, and the application and interview process is great practice for a job hunt. (The money doesn’t hurt, either.)

Finding and obtaining the right scholarships is where the subject can get tricky. Here are some tips on how to do so:

Ask your phone. Unsurprisingly, the most obvious place to find scholarships is also the easiest to search — the internet. Online databases, such as the ThisWaytoCPA National Scholarship Search, can help you easily filter, find, and apply for scholarships. You can search for scholarships that meet certain criteria, such as whether they give out aid based on financial need or merit, or other criteria such as your major.

A little care, however, is still warranted, according to Linda Higgins, associate director of financial aid at the School of Business at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“You can do a quick search for accounting scholarships, but you want to be sure you are on a trusted site,” Higgins said, adding that students should never work through sites that ask them to pay for what is free information.

Ask your school. Another great resource may be your school itself. Higgins said some schools maintain a database of scholarships and are happy to help students apply. Check with your school’s financial aid office to see if it has a website or even dedicated scholarship staff who can help you.

Get specific. While there are plenty of opportunities to chase big fish when searching for scholarships, there can be great value in a narrower focus.

Jonathan Peck, a 2016 recipient of the AICPA/Accountemps Scholarship Award, turned his passion for forensic accounting into money for school, internships at PwC and the FBI, and now a full-time position at Google.

Many scholarships are highly competitive. Focusing on a specific area can set you apart, Peck said.

“If a student has an interest they should look for niche scholarships in that area,” he said. “The benefit is showing you are truly passionate about something.”

Perfect your essay. Chances are, if you are applying for many scholarships you are submitting just as many essays — or perhaps the same essay many times.

Higgins suggested not trying to reinvent the wheel on each scholarship essay. But doing a little bit of work beyond a copy/paste will help. Spend some time tailoring your general essay to align with the focus of each scholarship, she said.

Kevin Tse, a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a recipient of the 2018–2019 AICPA Scholarship Award for Minority Accounting Students, recommended having someone read over your work before submitting it to spot any spelling or grammar errors.

Keep your recommendations personal. Tse, who leads a foundation that awards the Dream to Achieve Scholarship, said he sees plenty of uninspiring letters of recommendation.

“Most people will say yes to writing you a letter,” Tse said. But the content of that letter can wind up being generic, he warned.

Having a stellar recommendation letter, though, can be an opportunity to stand above your competition. Tse suggested asking someone you have worked closely with for a recommendation, someone who can truly go the extra mile in vouching for you.

Put in the work, and don’t get discouraged. The most important tools for applying to scholarships are hard work and being willing to take rejection in stride. And, while many scholarships do receive thousands of applicants, not all are so competitive.

“Tons of scholarships are waiting for people to apply,” Tse said. “Persistence is a huge thing.” Many people he knows, he said, “get turned down and think, ‘why bother?’”

And while repeating the application process over and over may seem like a headache, the answer to ‘why bother?’ is obvious.

“Students want everything so quick, but you have to take time,” Higgins said. “You can put in a few hours and end up with a significant amount of [money in] scholarships. That’s a good investment.”

Matthew Philpott is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.


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