SRU students see gains from increased scholarship awards
Slippery Rock University has consistently increased the amount of scholarships it provides students each year, including the more than $7 million institutional scholarships offered in 2016-17.
Nov. 10, 2017
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Sarah Allen can appreciate the value of scholarship money more than most Slippery Rock University students. Allen, a junior exercise science major from Saegertown, is a student-worker in the University's Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships. It is one of four jobs totaling more than 40 hours per week that she works in addition to classes and her studies.
In her "spare time," Allen still manages to carve out time in her schedule to apply for scholarships because that's "free money."
Allen is among the 85 percent of SRU students who received a combined $28,507,069 in scholarships and grants during the 2016-17 academic year.
Despite her aggressive pursuit of multiple paychecks, Allen has recognized the benefit of scholarships by applying for several scholarships and receiving at least six exceeding $6,000, including the $2,000 Highmark Healthcare Scholarship for Rising Juniors, awarded to 100 juniors pursuing a degree in health care professions at Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education institutions.
"My friends say I'm a cheapskate," said Allen, who also works at the Grove City Premium Outlet, is a peer leader for first-year student seminar and works in the exercise science research lab. "Just working in the financial aid office has (made me realize) how disappointing it is to see students who aren't willing to take the extra step just to get free money."
Scholarships received by SRU students have increased by nearly $1 million in each of the last three years, and the total increase in scholarship and grant monies have taken a nearly $2 million leap from 2015-16's total of $26,882,242.
"Scholarships are at the heart of the University," said Alyssa Dobson, director of financial aid and scholarships, who points to the combination of need-based and merit-based scholarships the University offers. "As we are trying to strategically apply these dollars, we look for the students who are doing well but who also may be struggling to pay."
Another recent strategy is the emphasis the office is giving to renewable scholarships, those awarded in each of the student's four years.
"Giving that renewable scholarship provides students and their families stability and flexibility for the duration of their undergraduate degree," Dobson said. "That was a major change in our awards strategy that we think will be very valuable to our students over time."
Many of the renewable scholarships are endowed, donor-based scholarships through the Slippery Rock University Foundation, Inc. which generates, develops and stewards charitable gifts and other resources to support the priorities of the University and its students. The Foundation allocated nearly $2 million for scholarships last year. A quarter of all donors' gifts to the Foundation's supported endowed scholarships, while 12 percent went to annual scholarships and 7 percent to athletic scholarships.
"We facilitate what the University wants to accomplish and the priority is always on the students' needs and the greatest need is scholarships," said Edward Bucha, executive director of SRU Foundation, Inc. "It's great that the Foundation can fill in those gaps, especially with endowed scholarships, which help students and their families know how much to borrow for the next four years. We provide gradual increases every year so that there are no spikes up or down and we can constantly provide support to the students."
For a student like Allen, who is paying her own way through college, scholarships are crucial to her success. Allen comes from a single-parent family and also has a brother who is in college. A frugal student, she works diligently to manage her finances, including monthly payments on her student loans to avoid interest accrual, as well as paying rent, utilities and a car payment.
"It's rewarding to be able to do it myself," Allen said. "My mom is thankful that I actually go out of my way to (apply for scholarships). She's really big into pushing us to have our own budgeting and accountability for our bills."
Allen encourages all students to take advantage of scholarship opportunities, including students whose parents are helping pay their tuition or for students who don't qualify as need-based. Only one of the six scholarships she received took into account need.
"Apply for as many scholarships as you can," Allen advises. "There have been scholarships where I was the only person to apply. People think, 'Oh, I would never win it.' People think it's a lot more difficult than it actually is."
When applying for scholarships and financial aid, Dobson offers the following tips :
-File your Free Application for Federal Student Aid at www.fafsa.gov. SRU's federal school code is 003327. The FAFSA is already open for next year's financial aid and filing early has benefits.
-Actively search websites for scholarships, especially www.sru.edu/scholarships, which is updated periodically with internal and external scholarship opportunities.
-Put thoughtful effort and time into writing essays that are often required for scholarship applications. Because many essays have similar objectives, like explaining your career goals, save them so you can update and repurpose them.
-Ask a faculty member or mentor to write a letter of recommendation.
-Beware of scams. Never pay more than the cost of postage in order to apply for a scholarship.
-Don't forget to check your local community for scholarship opportunities, including civic organizations, the Elks Club, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Masons, churches and employers.
-Don't give up. Keep applying for scholarships throughout your years of study; scholarships aren't just for freshmen.
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