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Turn Extracurricular Activities Into Scholarships

January 28, 2021

The following article is from U.S. News & World Report

Extracurricular activities may be overlooked when it comes time to apply for college scholarships, but a student's passions and talents outside of the classroom can translate to significant financial awards.

Prospective and current students hoping to use scholarships to limit both out-of-pocket costs and student loan borrowing can start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to be considered for need-based financial aid. But to earn a scholarship for skills in fields like art or sports, students will need to do research – and some self-reflection.

Scholarships exist for all kinds of extracurricular activities and interests. Monique Adorno-Jiménez, a student success director for ECMC, a nonprofit organization that assists student loan borrowers, says students should create a "scholarship resume" to fully take advantage of all the scholarships that may be available to them.

"This helps a student really start looking at all of the parts of themselves," she says. "Put down your education, your work experience, your volunteer experience, your family responsibilities, your extracurricular activities, any awards and honors, and then any special skills or talents. Even if you're Excel proficient or you're an artist. It gives a much broader view of your abilities."

No interest or experience is too small, Adorno-Jiménez says.

Once a student has considered all of their interests and skills, they can begin the search. Merit scholarships awarded based on a student's passions and interests are numerous and can be found at the local, state and national levels. Both private and public organizations offer them.

The Archibald Rutledge Scholarship Program, for example, which rewards skills in creative writing, dance, music, theater or visual arts, is offered by the South Carolina Department of Education. High school seniors enrolled in a public school in South Carolina submit original compositions, process folios and other art samples for the chance to win one of five scholarships of approximately $2,000 each.

Many states offer similar scholarships that support students in the arts, and Anne Pressley, director of the office of standards and learning at the South Carolina Department of Education, says that supporting students in their artistic and extracurricular endeavors is essential to achieving the state's desired learning outcomes.

"What's extremely important are the talents and skills and interests of each individual student," Pressley says. "I've been a classroom teacher, as most of us at the state department where I work have, and we have experiences with students showing that a student's interests in the arts or extracurriculars can be the thing that keeps them in school, keeps them interested and keeps them connected."

To be successful in pursuing one of these scholarships, Pressley says, "it's about finding your passion, what truly energizes you as a student, and taking it as far as you can."

Students interested in sports can also apply for athletic scholarships, whether through an institution or from an outside organization.

While not all extracurricular activities will lead to a career, some scholarships and fellowships can give students the confidence to pursue their passion full time. Jeffery Allison, director of statewide programs and exhibitions at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, notes that these programs can be a source not just of money but also of a community and network to support future goals.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellowship Program, for example, offers fellowships to student artists worth up to about $6,000. While many students major in a related field, Allison – a past fellowship recipient himself – says undergraduate and graduate students can use the money for anything, from art supplies and a new camera to even rent and groceries. The fellowship is also open to high school seniors who have been accepted into a postsecondary program.

"You join this club, this list of artists, since 1940 who have won, and many of them have gone on to be hugely famous," Allison says. "We don't have many people who win who are in a totally different major field; you might be majoring in something but then with a minor in photography or painting. And a lot of people end up pursuing a degree in art education to become a teacher. It's all about the work of art and the quality of the artwork."

Some scholarships require that students major in a certain area of study, experts note, and this can be an opportunity for students to find additional scholarship dollars based on their chosen academic area.

Ginny Butsch, community engagement manager at the Educational Theatre Association, says the Ohio-based organization's many scholarships are for students with an interest in the theater, even if it's not part of their career plan. Eligibility varies by scholarship, but opportunities are available to high school seniors and undergraduate and graduate students.

"Theatre teaches incredibly important skills that benefit any career path," Butsch wrote in an email. She encourages students involved in the theater "to do their research and apply for any scholarship they are eligible for, not just a generic Google search, but a deeper dive into the websites of organizations and associations that make musical theatre happen."

No matter a student's interests, whether theater, art or athletics, Adorno-Jiménez urges students to apply for as many scholarships as possible, including those related to volunteer activities and family responsibilities.

"The more you apply to, the higher the odds of actually receiving the scholarship money. I had one student apply to 32 scholarships – any part of who she was she looked for a scholarship in that – and she ended up getting 14," she says. "Even if it's just $500, three or four $500 scholarships add up."

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