Scholarships Demystified: The Story Behind the Scholarship Process
February 7, 2019
“UNC is important to me because it’s not only a way that I can improve myself, but it’s a way to prove myself to my family. As a first-generation student my family had no idea what going to college was,” says Mikilynna Taufetee a Political Science student at UNC.
Like many students at UNC, Mikilynna has big goals. She hopes one day to change the world as an immigration lawyer, criminal attorney or politician. Goals she wouldn’t have in her sights if it hadn’t been for the support she received from scholarships like the Jerry L. Gress Memorial Provost's Academic Scholarship.
“I’m from out of state, so it’s really hard to afford everything from the books to the cost of taking classes full time. It’s kind of cliché to say, but the main reason that I’m here is that a scholarship is there supporting me,” Mikilynna says.
Every year there are a number of individuals, committees and generous donors working behind the scenes to make possible hundreds of scholarships just like the one Mikilynna received.
It all begins with a donor like Dana Cohenour ’81 and her husband Jason.
“The support that UNC gave me when I was younger, I want to return that support now that I’m able to. I think about all those students who are just starting out, and how I needed a hand when I was attending,” Cohenour says. “I had a musical theater scholarship when I attended UNC. I looked back and thought, that wasn’t a huge amount of money back then, but it sure helped me. So if I can help a current student who is in a similar position, then it really makes my heart feel good.”
When donors like the Cohenours decide to support students at UNC through a scholarship, The UNC Foundation will accept and manage their gifts accordingly.
Working closely with the Office of Financial Aid, the Foundation awards those scholarships to deserving students with the help of the UNC scholarship application. The 40-question form, available year-round to students through Ursa, determines student eligibility for this life changing aid.
“I get a lot of students who think that they need to apply for every single individual scholarship, but they just need to submit the single application,” says Natascha Ambrose, Associate Director of Financial Aid at UNC. “70-percent of our scholarships are what’s called auto-match. If your answers on the general application are a match you are automatically added to the list of qualifying applicants.”
Once that single application is finished, students are shown a list of additional action items required to complete the scholarships they qualify for. But not all scholarships require additional steps; once the universal application is complete some students are done.
“There are some students who will not see anything on their dashboard, and they think they qualify for nothing, but that’s not usually the case,” Ambrose says.
The priority deadline for student applications is February 1st of each year. After that the scholarship selection committees begin their work.
“We are a decentralized system when it comes to scholarships. There’s not one single committee that chooses all the recipients,” Ambrose says.
“Sometimes it’s just composed of one faculty member who will go in and select the recipients, and sometimes there will be a whole group with one chair assigned to represent the committee,” says Jennifer Major, Coordinator of Scholarships for the Office of Financial Aid. “It all depends upon the scholarship and donor intent.”
Each scholarship is assigned a specific unit or committee for selection. Those assigned have until May 1st to make their decisions.
“We’re trying to meet that May 1st deadline so that students can make an informed decision and commit. That’s the national commit date for admissions,” Ambrose says.
But the process doesn’t end there. The Office of Financial Aid works year-round to ensure that as many students are matched with available scholarship aid as possible.
“We have a priority deadline, but you actually can still go in and put an application in up until October 1st because if we can’t award a scholarship, we then move that priority date and see who else filters in,” Major says. “We’ll have students who might graduate at the end of the fall semester and they were awarded a fall and spring scholarship. So, we’re going back in and we’re re-awarding that unused portion. Even if students didn’t get something right away, there’s still a possibility that they could get something down the line.”
“We’ve got money to give. We do as much as we can to get everybody to fill out an application to help them with those costs and stay in school. It changes people’s lives honestly. It’s really awesome to see. It’s awesome to be on this side of it, giving that to the student and seeing how it affects the student,” Ambrose says.
For that, students like Mikilynna are grateful.
“It’s very empowering to know that the scholarship selection committee heard what I have to offer to help improve the world and they chose to believe in me and support me,” Mikilynna says. "If I could talk to the person who granted me the scholarship, I would probably cry. I am just so grateful, and I would just want to tell them how much I appreciate them for taking the time to read my story and see who I am. It makes me feel like I’m worth enough to be here.”