Scholarship scramble

Procrastinators, be warned: this is your last week to make a lunge for free money.

Portland State opens its scholarship process every October, during which students can apply online for a variety of awards offered by the university. That process closes Feb. 1, and only completed applications submitted by that point are considered. A completed application includes several steps, including the submission of transcripts and two letters of recommendation, in addition to the online essay.

Scholarship Coordinator Sa’eed Haji pointed to the letters of recommendation as a common hurdle to trip up candidates during the application process. He acknowledged that the issue sometimes falls on unresponsive faculty.

“For a lot of applications, the students do what they’re supposed to do, and they work hard for it,” Haji said. “It makes me sad to see that a recommender wasn’t able to support their student. Especially when they make the commitment.”

Haji expressed frustration with those incidents, but he also pointed out that it rests with students to complete the process.

“It is the student’s responsibility to make sure that they actually pick a good person that would advocate for them,” he said.

He recommended that students give professors six weeks to get a letter of recommendation together, and to make the initial request in person. He also suggested that students send along a resume, talking points and other details to help the recommender focus the letter.

Haji also noted that many students have lost opportunities due to essay quality. He stressed that students write personalized, pointed responses without a lot of jargon. He also suggested proofreading, as well as a visit to the PSU Writing Center.

“Not all the answers will be the same, but if you read the question and understand what it’s asking, then relate it to yourself and why you deserve the scholarship, you might have more of a chance,” Haji said.

The PSU scholarship program is funded by donations to the PSU Foundation, an autonomous organization that manages the university endowment. The Foundation allocated 9 percent of its $37.3 million in university support to scholarships in the 2014-15 calendar year, according to their 2015 financial statements.

According to Haji, PSU disbursed a total of $4.25 million, paid through a total of 1,539 institutional scholarships. On average, students received $2761 per scholarship.

Application review consists of a pool of roughly 80-120 faculty and staff members on any given year. Reviewers select applicants based on a number of criteria, including essay strength, letters of recommendation, academic record and financial need. They also look at broader criteria, such as community involvement and clarity of goals.

Haji pointed out that reviewers come from the PSU community, and suggested that students write to that fact.

“Let the reviewer know what makes you a good investment by the university,” Haji said. “Tailor your essay to the specifics of each scholarship.”

Applicants just beginning the process might not have a lot of time to submit this year, but Haji recommended persistence. He suggested students re-apply next year, even if declined for the 2016-17 year. He also pointed to outside scholarships as an important source to consider, such as the Oregon State scholarships through the Oregon Office of Student Access & Completion, which closes its process on March 1.