January officially begins our scholarship season at Cancer for College! Applications are due postmarked January 31, so we are rapidly approaching the deadline. If you know or are a cancer patient or survivor, currently attending college or planning to in the fall, and would like to apply for a scholarship, please click here for the application details.
In the early years of our charity, it was difficult to find applicants. We had to make personal contact with hospital social work departments, and hope they would get our information into the hands of eligible students.
That changed with the internet. To date we have processed thousands of applications. Last year alone we received nearly 500 applications from cancer survivors around the country and awarded just over $100,000 to 60 recipients. Applications go through several stages of review by our evaluation committee, consisting of about 10 members with longstanding ties to Cancer for College, three of whom are past scholarship recipients.
How can you submit a winning application? Following are tips to help your application stand out from the others.
Send us a complete application with all required pieces of the puzzle, in the correct order as specified. This one seems obvious, but every year, we are forced to set aside incomplete applications. As heartbreaking as this is to say, applications missing information are not even reviewed. The very first step in processing applications is to ensure all materials requested are present. If one piece is missing, for example, if there is only one letter of recommendation instead of two, that application is immediately set aside. That student’s review process is over before it even begins. Doing this is very difficult for all of us on the review committee, because we know that each application packet represents a person who has gone through trials that no one, particularly someone so young, should have to experience.
On the flip side, please do not clutter your packet with more information than requested — extra letters of recommendation, news articles, pages and pages of transcripts (we just need an official cumulative GPA verification). The selection process is time-consuming for our committee — most of whom are volunteers with families, careers and additional commitments — so wading through too much information to get to what we need becomes frustrating.
Write a compelling personal statement which addresses the topic prompt while helping us get to know you and your individual situation. Some personal statements leave us wanting to know more. Some fail to paint a picture of the applicant themselves. Your personal statement is your big chance to really allow us to get to know you. This is your time to spotlight your story, and share your goals for college and beyond.
Personal statements are very influential in the evaluation process. All complete applications undergo an initial review of the personal statements, a “round one” evaluation. Some applications do not make it beyond this point. But a great majority do move on the next step, the committee round table review. As a team, and over a course of several weeks, the review committee reads aloud every personal statement, and scores the application together.
“A winning scholarship essay is one that truly sets a particular applicant apart from the others,” says Scholarships.com in their article “Top 10 Tips for Writing Effective Scholarship Essays.” “If you tell your story clearly and persuasively, you might just find yourself receiving a congratulatory letter from the scholarship committee!”
We know at Cancer for College that many applicants are stricken with cancer during their high school years, causing a ripple effect on their grades and participation in activities. We account for this in our evaluation process. We are not looking for students with the highest grades or the most activities in school, although those details are considered. We are also impressed by applicants who have taken their experience and turned it into a positive, using their situation to influence others and make a difference.
Choose your letters of recommendation wisely. A medical reference is required, on official letterhead, as we need it to verify status as a cancer patient. Some doctors do just that, a few sentences confirming patient status and dates of treatment. Others go into deeper detail, sharing positive traits of the patient and offering specifics on why this patient should receive a scholarship. While you may not have much control over this, please give careful consideration to whom you ask to write your recommendation. Find someone who knows you well and is willing elaborate on your positive qualities.
We ask for two letters, with at least one of them being from a doctor who provided treatment. The second letter is from a person of your choosing, but can still be a part of your medical treatment team. Many applicants submit their second letters from a teacher, principal, church leader or family friend.
Letters of recommendation are often consulted or read aloud during our committee round table evaluations, particularly if the personal statement leaves us wanting more. These written testimonies can be influential in the decision-making process, as they provide another avenue for the committee to find a sense of who you are.
Each one of our applicants is a unique, vibrant young man or woman who has survived a difficult journey. Back in the early days of Cancer for College, we had a small enough applicant pool that everyone who applied received funding. We certainly wish we could still say this. Actually, the number one item on our wish list is that modern medicine would one day make a scholarship for cancer survivors obsolete. Until that time, we hope that these application tips are useful, we wish you all good health and good luck.