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What is a departmental scholarship? 

Departmental scholarships are scholarships that are not open to everyone—you have to fall into a specific academic program, location, or level of need. Most students have a greater chance at winning these sort of scholarships because they are not open to as broad of a playing field than national or school-wide competitions. Take advantage of this sort of opportunity, because this could mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars in aid to help you pay for college expenses.

How do I know if I qualify? 

The first place to start is the office of financial aid. Some colleges will automatically enter students in good academic standing into consideration for scholarships provided by donors and the institution itself. It’s a good idea to do some research or contact your financial aid or scholarships department to see where you stand. It’s also a good idea to lay out your finances to see if you qualify as a student who would be in need of the aid provided by a scholarship, because some might be need-based.

Who do I talk to next? 

Next, talk to people in your major or program of study. Not all departmental scholarships are heavily advertised, because they only want students who are very invested to go after them. Talk to department heads or your professors to see if there are any opportunities available, and if there are, what time of year you can apply for them. This might also give you a head start in finding out what sort of materials you might need to prepare when it comes time to apply. Speaking of materials, a letter of recommendation never harmed anyone. Even if the scholarship you are applying for doesn’t require a letter, or doesn’t even say anything about a letter, having one (or more!) will show that you’ve gone above and beyond and are really invested in this award. The best people to go to for letters of recommendation are professors that you’ve had in the department, employers, coaches, or anyone who’s seen you put in your best work and effort.

How can I find out more information on my own?

Your school’s website and department websites can be very resourceful in your scholarship search. If you’re having a hard time finding information, try going on your school’s main webpage and typing “scholarships” in the search bar. Try to find any page that will link you to useful information. Sometimes, scholarship committees will include essay submissions from previous winners of awards, which can help you tremendously so that you can get a feel for what the judges will be looking for.

What are the typical requirements? 

Departmental scholarships in particular are where your major/minor GPA are going to be taken into account. If you’re doing well in your department’s classes, scholarship committees are going to consider you over students that exceed in other courses unrelated to the major. Departmental scholarships are granted to students who are very devoted and excelling in their program of study, and therefore deserving funding as a result for their hard work. Make sure you check the requirements of each scholarship you apply for as well, because some are only open to students who have filled out the FAFSA and demonstrated financial need.

I’ve applied for some scholarships, now what? 

After you’ve submitted applications, scholarships are much of a waiting game. You’ll likely hear back via email or phone if you’ve won an award, in which case you will also have to contact financial aid to make sure the amount gets applied to your financial aid package. If the scholarship goes to someone else, you might receive an email informing you that the award went to someone else, but you might not hear anything at all.

Winning scholarships, especially departmental ones earned for excelling in your major, is a great feeling and can really make you feel like you’re well on the path you’re heading. If you need assistance paying for school, this kind of scholarship is definitely worth going out of your way for.

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the author

Allison Capley is an editor, college life writer, and a member of James Madison University’s class of 2016 in Harrisonburg, Virginia. At JMU she studies Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication, with a minor in Health Communication. Allison’s favorite hobby is horseback riding. In the future, she aspires to live life to the fullest and obtain a career in medical and pharmaceutical writing.

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