Letters of recommendation help earn scholarships

Everyone has heard the tale of “the poor college kid.” If you feel that you fall into that category, there are a number of ways to dig yourself out. Earning scholarships is one way to help students combat tuition costs and save more money. Submitting a well-done application will make all the difference.

The Department of Education and colleges collaborate to award $46 billion in scholarship money each year. Private companies, foundations and civic groups award an additional $35 million per year.

Departments on Illinois State University’s campus offer a variety of scholarships in plenty of majors.

For example, the School of Communication (SOC) awards two different scholarships within the mass media major, in addition to scholarships in public relations, journalism and communication studies areas.

MCT Photo  Building relationships with professors is key for recieving useful letters of recommendation for scholarship applications.

MCT Photo
Building relationships with professors is key for receiving useful letters of recommendation for scholarship applications.

To give students easy access to the application procedure, opportunities are posted on the SOC website and periodically they’re shared through e-mail blasts.

Though each scholarship is individually different, mostly they provide year-round opportunities. Many students will take advantage of that by applying during the summer to start utilizing those funds in the fall.

Sallie Young, senior mass media major, earned a spot in the Department of Children and Family Service (DCFS) Scholarship Program. Young said the third time applying was the key.

The program is available to any Illinois state funded community college or university. The benefits are available for four years, or until the date on which the participant receives a bachelor’s degree. These benefits have drastically changed Young’s life in a positive manner.

“My college experience wouldn’t be the same without DCFS Scholarship Program and scholarship advisor Laura Gutierrez. With their assistance, it created more opportunities for my college career,” Young said. “I was able to travel to New York City with National Student Exchange Program.”

“Last semester, I studied abroad in South Korea all while paying Illinois State University’s tuition. I gained so many new experiences, met some great people, tried new food and made networking contacts. Overall, this scholarship produced fascinating experiences and opportunities that give my résumé a competitive edge for future employers.”

Young said that financial aid can be unpredictable, and each year students will not necessarily acquire the same funding.

“This year, I ran out of grant money and thank God I was blessed to have DCFS Scholarship Program to cover my full tuition,” Young said. “The best way to have a plan B is to have money from scholarships.”

Julie Navickas, academic advisor in the School of Communication, presses the importance of taking the application process seriously.

She said most students take adequate time throughout the summer to work on their applications, as the process is not a last-minute ordeal.

Especially since multiple applications require essays and recommendation letters explaining specifically how students can relate scholarships funds to their current work and why they deserve the award.

Navickas said the first step toward obtaining an effective letter of recommendation is to approach instructors that know you on a personal and academic scale.

Many students struggle to build these relationships in large classes, but other resources are always available.

“It’s an awkward kind of process especially if you’re coming from lecture based classes, they know you’re in seat 56, but they don’t know anything about you outside of that,” Navickas said. “A nice way to approach that is to build relationships with graduate assistants or teaching assistants, people who support that classroom.”

“They are extremely good candidates. That’s what their role is, to support the instructor in different functions, so who’s to say they couldn’t support them in that role too?”

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