By Brandon Hines
Sitting in the classroom, pen in hand, taking notes furiously, trying to get every morsel of information she can, Brookhaven College student Tylena Scott has been out of school for 10 years and is eager to continue her education. But with so much on her plate, she has worry in her eyes that says, “How am I going to pay for this?”
Many financial “free money” scholarships go unclaimed every semester, according to Scholarship America, the nation’s largest scholarship administrator. On October 18, Brookhaven held a SkillsShop seminar designed to let students know how to get their hands on some of that free money. A new report by The Dallas Morning News showed that on average, Texas college graduates will have to pay back $22,140 in student loans.
The Dallas County Community College District is raising fees in the spring from the current rate of $49 per credit hour to $52 per credit hour.
The Dallas Morning News report said that Texas ranks 29th in the percentage of college graduates with debt.
“The most important part of filling out your scholarship application is the essay,” Beverly Neu Menassa, LPC-S, assistant dean, Student Support Services, said. “I am an English teacher, and if the grammar, punctuation, and spelling are not correct, then it goes into the ‘no’ pile. Especially spelling, I am a stickler for spelling. I hate it when students misspell things when I know they have a word processor,” Neu Menassa said.
Neu Menassa said, “When you have the meat and potatoes written, you will be able to tailor it for each application and then use it over and over.” Neu Menassa also put a great emphasis on the importance of “I” statements, like, “I love volunteering at the nursing home.”
Neu Menassa has been on several scholarship committees that evaluated students for scholarships. When asked about the committee selection process, she said: “This is money; the teams are being very selective when they choose you. It all comes down to that little piece of paper,” the ever-important application.
The more specific and elite scholarships will require an interview process before an award will be considered. “Prestigious scholarships require an extremely detailed application, an essay from the heart and letters of recommendation,” Pamela Shuttlesworth, district director of Financial Aid and Scholarship Programs, said.
TG’s Charley Wootan Grant Program is a grant that students can apply for each semester. Shuttlesworth said: “A lot of our Dallas students receive up to $6,000 per year through Charlie Wootan. We are members of the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation, and they have a huge portfolio from us. We’re one of their good contacts. We get a lot of our students’ scholarships from there.”
Neu Menassa interjected, “To me, the hardest part, besides the essay, is finding the right scholarship for you. That’s a research piece as well.” Searching for a suitable scholarship will take some work and time. “Free money is not really free when there is time involved, but then it is actually free,” Neu Menassa said jokingly. Students can visit www.fafsa.ed.gov or www.foundation.dcccd.edu to research scholarship opportunities.
Scott, like a handful of other students, attended the SkillsShop to learn more about the application process. Scott, however, found out that she was in for a lot more than she bargained for. Scott said: “It’s a lot. The essay is very scary for me, having to bring up your adversities and things like that. I thought that you just had to fill out a piece of paper.”
She asked several questions throughout the session and was surprised how much goes into applying.
She said, “I didn’t know there was an essay or other requirements that you would actually have to meet to get the scholarship.” This is Scott’s first year at Brookhaven, and she hopes to become a radiology technician.
Brookhaven offers several SkillsShops free of charge throughout the fall semester. Sessions range from financial literacy to recordkeeping strategies and relaxation techniques for public speaking. On Wednesday, Nov. 7, there will be a session titled “From Anxiety to Excellence: Test-Taking Strategies for Public Speaking,” in the X Building, Room X3009 from 11 a.m.-noon.
In the S Building, Room S124, counselors will look at scholarship essays for students.Neu Menassa said, “Now, you can’t bring all of your college essays to us, because we won’t go over them. But we all will review scholarship essays. Be prepared to revise and edit the essay, but don’t wait until the last minute.”