What Happens When a Scholarship Goes Unused?
This year, the first full year of Abingdon Foundation, we gave away three fully-funded, all-inclusive scholarships to attend industry conferences. Our winners were women from the fields of helicopter aviation, general aviation, and Scuba diving. They were flown from their homes in Colorado, South Africa, and Tennessee. They were provided full entry to Heli-Expo, the Women in Aviation conference, and DEMA (the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association) Scuba diving show. Their hotel and transportation costs were covered. They networked with industry peers and professionals. They gathered memories for a lifetime. They created innovative works of art, mentorship and advocacy programs, and educational tools that will be used in the future by Abingdon Foundation. They are now influencing the next generation of women pursuing nontraditional careers in STEAM fields. They got jobs. They made contacts. They were inspired and inspired others. They are basically rock stars. And they are women JUST LIKE YOU.
We’re already awarding three of our five (plus!) scholarships for next year. And an interesting thing happened… no one won our Heli-Expo scholarship. No one. We WANT to give away this scholarship. We BEGGED for people to apply. We advertised on social media. We asked people to share. FREE airfare! FREE room/board. FREE conference entry. TONS of mentoring. DOZENS of contacts who want to meet you. Publicity. Community. Assistance in pursuing your personal and professional endeavors. We really want to bring you into our community.
And no one applied.
So we sent out more requests to share our scholarship information.
Two people applied. Kind of. They had incomplete applications and did not respond to our multiple requests for more information.
And the deadline came. And the deadline passed.
So the scholarship went unawarded. Thousands of dollars left on the table. Job opportunities missed. Networking averted. Mentoring forfeited. Community lost. A free trip from anywhere in the world to Atlanta to learn about the world of helicopter aviation (no experience necessary!) is just gone.
We will use those funds for the next scholarship, for the next woman, for the next pursuit of passion. But this year- the scholarship goes unawarded.
Improving Your Chances for Winning Scholarships
So what happened? How do YOU get that money? How do you get those opportunities? We were first and foremost looking for a complete application. We need to see all of the requirements met. It’s important to fill out the form so we know who you are, where you live, that you meet our internal requirements, and that we know how to contact you. We’re overeager to award our scholarships because we believe in the good we’re doing for women pursuing STEAM careers. But we must have a complete database for our business records.
So when we email or message you, respond. When we ask for more information, provide it (or tell us why you can’t provide it). When we reach out, reach back. Let’s just talk! We’re people too.
Secondly, we explicitly state we don’t require any prior experience in the field of the conference you’re applying to. We are looking for enthusiasm. Tell us why you’re excited about this field! Tell us why this scholarship is important to you. Tell us why you should win. We want to know about you. We want you to be as excited about this as we are. We want you! All you have to do is want us back.
Finally, ensure all requirements are met. Our scholarship requires a complete, creative, unique contribution by YOU to the field you’re interested in. That doesn’t mean you need to invent the wheel or out-craft Martha Stewart. We want you to show us your talents. Because we don’t require any experience in the field, we search for people who are already making a contribution in whatever way they can. For instance, for our aviation scholarship to Women in Aviation, our last winner, Khodani, created watch bands in the style of different African countries, that would create conversation around time, travel, and opportunities in aviation. She didn’t have much aviation experience, but she was so very communicative and personable. She really wanted to reach out to others through aviation and her African heritage. We selected her as the winner and she’s been a wonderful advocate for women in aviation ever since.
We have had people contact us with concerns that they’re not creative enough. We have no specific requirements about your scholarship application. We purposely left it open to your interpretation so that you could use your strengths and do your thing. Everyone has a thing. What’s your thing? I love writing, but other people hate it. We’ve had beautiful essay submissions (even a poem!) (and by the way, that poem won!) but we’ve also had stickers designed, pages translated into Spanish, posters made with statistics about women in STEAM fields, and other really unique submissions.
A lot of times, it’s hard for us to decide between these passion projects. And then there was this year’s Heli-Expo scholarship issue- NO complete applications. That means YOU could have won. YOU could have received thousands of dollars’ worth of travel, mentoring, education, and fun.
The Ultimate To-Do List
So how do you ensure you have a guaranteed shot at winning these scholarships out there? I mean, there are literally thousands of high-value scholarships to conferences, training programs, colleges, and events that are waiting to be given away. Free money! Free swag! Free education! Free opportunities! You need these! You want these! Here’s where to start:
RTFQ. This means Read The Full Question. The requirements for each scholarship should be spelled out explicitly on the application or website. Know what they want. Give them everything they want. Do NOT skip any steps. And if it’s unclear or you don’t know what they’re asking- ask them! You will get a return email or phone call answering all of your questions in detail. Trust me, all of us who give scholarships really really really want you to win.
Show your enthusiasm. Now- don’t go overboard with the cheerleader thing. However, organizations love it when their recipients are supporters of the organization and will advocate for their causes. We want people who will share our message. We want people who will thank us. We want people who are happy to help us. Basically, we love you because you love us. Show the love. Share the love. Genuinely. That means (at least for us), correspond with us. Share our social media posts. Send us a message about why you’re excited about this opportunity.
Submit everything you’re asked for. If we email you for more information, please send it. If we have a form to fill out, please fill it out. If you already sent something we didn’t receive, help us find it or send it again. And if you’re in doubt about what you missed or what we need, please ask.
Check your timelines. Yes, we have a deadline. We need to notify those other wonderful people who applied but didn’t win so that they can make their own arrangements for going to the conference on their own. We need to coordinate on voting with our very busy (and otherwise employed) board members. We need to prepare press releases. We need to buy your plane tickets, visa, hotel room, and conference registration. And we’ve backed up all those dates to get it all done after the application window closes. Apply on time. It matters.
Be you. You’re amazing. That’s why you’re applying for this awesome scholarship in something we think is very important. You have something to contribute. Are you proud of some accomplishment in your life? Write about it. Are you a skilled musician/dancer/designer/artist? Send us a video/artwork/link/sample. Are you a social media guru? Go through our site and submit a social media plan. Are you the best advice giver ever? Start a mentoring program and include us in your community. But the creativity part has to come from you. Check out what we’re looking for- a creative submission that stems from your talents and skills. Everyone is different, so we don’t need your application to look like anyone else’s. We’ll see the sunshine in you and know that you’re our rock star.
But Above All, Persevere
I said it before. We love enthusiasm. Know what makes us excited? Repeat applicants. People who email us with questions. Women who go above and beyond. Those who take the time to explain to us why they should win and how they are giving and will give back after the conference. Enthusiasts with big plans and smiling faces (ok…virtual smiling faces!).
If you don’t win, please try again! If you don’t win, congratulate the winner. If you don’t win, we’d love for you to volunteer with us. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Because putting yourself out there ensures that good things will come to you from the universe. We ultimately receive what we seek. So- are you seeking the right things? We hope so. Try, try, and try again. We’ll notice. So will your community. Go YOU!
This article was originally published for Abingdon Foundation, January 5, 2020.