Navigating The Scholarship Landscape

 

A Signpost With Blank Signs Pointing in Many Directions

A Signpost With Blank Signs Pointing in Many Directions

As we have mentioned before, the transition from high-school to college comes with challenges for everyone. Oftentimes, one of the biggest challenges when starting college is figuring out how you are going to is pay for it!

 

With college costs skyrocketing in recent years, scholarships are becoming more and more important for college applicants. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2012 the average student at a 4-year institution received $9,740 in scholarship and grant money. This is a quick guide to help students with disabilities navigate the often complex world of scholarships.

 

Finding A Scholarship

 

It’s important to understand the three biggest categories of scholarships: Merit-Based, Need-Based, and what I will call “other.”

 

Merit-Based scholarships award students based on academic, artistic, athletic, and really every imaginable type of achievement.

 

Need-Based scholarships attempt to identify individuals, through the FAFSA form, who need help paying for college. These scholarships are often provided by the college itself, or through the government.

 

The third category, what I referred to as “other,” contains scholarships that you could win for essentially every imaginable reason. Many of these scholarships are essentially an essay contest. There are scholarships for women, people of color, people with disabilities, people who play the drumset, and yes, even people who are really into daydreaming about the zombie apocalypse.

 

There are literally millions of scholarships out there, and a seemingly equally high number of services on the web dedicated to helping you find the right ones for your situation. Luckily for you, I spent some time sorting through those services. I narrowed them down to the three listed below.

 

Here is a list of three free, reputable scholarship search engines:

  • https://www.petersons.com/
    • Peterson’s has over 5000 scholarship providers, 1.5 million scholarships, and $10 billion in scholarships on their site.
    • As well as a scholarship reference, Peterson’s has great resources for finding the ideal university, as well as standardized test prep.
    • Their site is relatively easy to navigate and allows users to search scholarships by keyword (disability, Cerebral Palsy, etc.).

  • https://www.collegeboard.org/
    • CollegeBoard, the same company that administers the Advancement Placement (AP) and SAT tests has $6 billion in scholarships on its website.
    • The real advantage to using this site is that it allows users of AP and SAT testing to use the same login and profile information that they entered for those programs to search for scholarships, as well as a host of other resources.

  • https://www.fastweb.com/
    • Fastweb, a subsidiary of Monster.com, also boasts around 1.5 million scholarships, with $3 billion in total scholarship funds on their site.
    • Fastweb requires users to create a profile in order to search for scholarships. The profile is free and takes 10-15 minutes.
    • Fastweb will tailor the scholarships that it shows users based on their profile, and will notify users of new scholarships that might interest them.
    • Fastweb also has free career advice, financial aid and college search resources.

There are many other sites that may work for you, but these are the three that I relied on when I was applying for college scholarships only a few years ago.

 

Before using these sites, it helped me to sit down and make a profile of myself. Starting with characteristics such as race, gender, disability status, etc. and, then, try to make a list of the things you were involved with in high school such as:  your academic interests, your hobbies, and your potential areas of study in college. Each and every one of these things can open the door to a potentially lucrative scholarship opportunity.

 

It is also important to keep a few things in mind as you begin your search for scholarships.

 

Look Locally

 

Don’t forget to look for scholarship opportunities in your local area. Ask your school counselor about local scholarships, and maybe even give your local area library a call. I learned about a few very important local scholarships through my library.

 

You should also find out which UCP Affiliate is closest to you by using your zip code in our affiliate finder. It is worth giving your local affiliate a call to see if they have any scholarship or  suggestions of other funding opportunities for students headed off to college.

 

Pay Special Attention to the School You Are Attending

 

If you know which school you will be attending, make sure to do everything you can to find out about all of your specific college’s  financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Many of the scholarships you apply to will be specific to that school, and can be found on their website or by contacting their financial aid office.

 

You may also want to contact the disability services offices at your prospective schools to see if there are any grants or scholarships available specifically for disabled students.

 

Keep Track of Deadlines and Eligibility

 

You will find that as you accumulate scholarship applications, you will accumulate even more deadlines. I recommend putting together a calendar that only has scholarship deadlines and keep it separate from your application deadlines.

 

Put the Work In

 

You will notice that there is a wild difference in the amounts of work required to apply to various scholarships. While it may be tempting to spend a lot of time applying to “no-essay” national scholarships with applications that don’t take much time, keep in mind that there are probably hundreds of thousands of other students doing the same thing. I’ve found that you will get out what you put into the scholarship process, so don’t ignore the scholarships that require an essay or two.

 

This is a good little resource for writing scholarship essays. It always helped me to try to envision who was going to be reading my essay, and why they were interested in me and what I had to say. Try to convince your friends, family, teachers, mentors and anyone who is willing to proofread your essays and provide suggestions. Don’t be shy!

 

Getting Started

 

Here are some trustworthy scholarships specifically for individuals with disabilities to get you started on your scholarship search:

Google Lime Scholarship Program

 

Microsoft DisAbility Scholarship

 

Newcombe Scholarship for Students with Disabilities

 

Ameriglide Achiever Scholarship

 

Joe Cleres Scholarships for Students with Disabilities

 

Foundation for Science and Disability

 

disABLEDperson Inc. National College Scholarship

 

NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship

 

It may also be worth checking out this financial aid resource for students with disabilities put out by George Washington University’s HEATH Resource Center. HEATH serves as a national online clearinghouse on postsecondary education for individuals with disabilities.  

 

In conclusion… applying to college is stressful for a plethora of reasons, but scholarships don’t have to be one of them!

UCP Interns Visit Capitol Hill

 

This post was co-written by UCP Programs and Development Interns James O’Connor and Rebecca Zewdie

 

During our time interning for UCP’s National office, we have had the opportunity to learn about a range of policies that affect the lives of people with disabilities everyday. On June 22nd, we were given the chance to attend our first policy briefings on Capitol Hill. It was really interesting to get a taste of how the issues we have been learning about get discussed by advocates and other stakeholders here in DC. The briefings we were able to attend focused on issues surrounding employment for individuals with disabilities and Assistive  Technology (AT).

 

Employment (Rebecca’s perspective)

 

The first session of the day was a policy briefing that happened to be focused on the elimination of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Hosted by Representative Gregg Harper (R-MS) in a small room in the Longworth House Office Building, I was shocked to see attendees of the event standing in the hallway because the room was so packed. That was my first glimpse at how important discussion of this particular issue  is to many people with disabilities, their families, and advocates.

 

Some of the speakers on the panel included those personally affected by Section 14(c), a longtime member of several Congressional committees, and a man who advocated to phase out 14(c) in the State of Maryland. It was an incredible experience to see what goes on behind the scenes of bills and how people work  together to advocate for policies they believe in. It was also important for me to see the significance of health care policy, and the ramifications it could potentially have on individuals.

 

Among the speakers at the briefing, there was one man who helped change this law in his home state. Ken Capone, a resident of Maryland, helped pass the Ken Capone Equal Employment Act (EEA). The EEA mandates that the State of Maryland must phase-out  the payment of sub-minimum wage to those with disabilities by the year 2020. His ability to advocate for, and eventually to make, a critical change at the state level was inspiring. His contribution in Maryland will now prevent any individual with a disability from receiving a wage that is below the State’s standard for people without disabilities.

 

His in-depth analysis further solidified my drive to advocate for causes that are important to me. As I aspire to be involved in the health field one day, the briefing further affirmed  my chosen  career path. Attending this briefing also made me see the need for more conversations surrounding employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

 

Assistive Technology  (James’s Experience on Capitol Hill)

 

For people with and without disabilities, technology is a part of everyday life. As I’ve seen from day one of my internship here at UCP, Assistive Technology (AT)  is an integral part of the lives of many individuals with disabilities. I have witnessed first-hand how important AT is to someone like my supervisor, Karin. AT — such as her speech recognition software–  plays an important, daily role in enabling her to do her job. Because of the work I have done researching and advocating for technology-related legislation, it was exciting to learn that Karin and I would both be attending a technology-focused luncheon hosted by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD).

 

The luncheon featured panelists speaking about AT and how it has helped them or their family members manage medication, go on vacation, exercise, access the web, communicate, and much more. I was particularly compelled by Jason Owen, who was in a car crash in 1990 that left him unable to communicate. With the help of AT, he has become an author, a motivational speaker, a self-help coach, and a mentor to people around the country. Listening to Jason, I realized that AT is not only a tool for survival; it can enable people to really excel.

 

After the panel, there was an assistive technology exposition with booths showcasing technology ranging from adapted Google Glasses to remote presence technology. I have seen how important something as simple as a motorized headrest can be, but to see some of the incredibly advanced technology available was breathtaking. Every technology at the expo was designed to make communication, travel, exercise, or work possible and practical for anyone and everyone.

 

As I learned more about AT, I came to realize that much of the technology I was admiring was funded by Medicaid for many of its users. I was disheartened to learn that the Senate’s healthcare bill could leave this technology out of reach for many of the Americans that need it. This fact, as well as everything I saw and learned at the luncheon, emphasized for me how important it is that I be an advocate and ally to those in the disability community through my work here at UCP.

Family-Centered Programs at UCP of Tampa Bay

 

Inclusionary education, the practice of including children both with and without disabilities in school-related settings, is becoming increasingly common in early education programs across the country.

United Cerebral Palsy’s affiliate in Tampa Bay Florida, UCP of Tampa Bay, is way ahead of the curve. Opened in 1992, their inclusionary childhood development center began as an alternative to institutionalization that gave parents of children with special needs, as well as their siblings, a convenient, structured preschool program.

25 years later, the program has blossomed into a NAC accredited developmental preschool, with a five star quality designation from the Quality Counts for Kids Program, which serves over 150 children each year. In the words of Laura White, the Executive Director of UCP of Tampa Bay, “The value of this program lies in allowing children with special needs and their siblings alike to be in a classroom setting together that builds a sense of mutual understanding and inclusion that leads to better outcomes for everyone.” Laura sees the program as an early preparation for the mainstream school system and a powerful way for young siblings to interact with other siblings as well as other children with unique needs.

In addition to the preschool program, UCP of Tampa Bay offers an inclusionary after-school program in which school aged children with disabilities and their age-appropriate (up to 8 years old) siblings are bused from school to the program, making pick-ups far easier for working parents. The program incorporates educational and occupational, physical, and speech therapies for those with special needs until they reach the age of 21. The facility features a fully accessible playground, with a wheelchair accessible swing, and a specialty decking that makes falls safer and aids accessibility. Laura estimates that, over the years, these inclusionary programs have served over two thousand children and over a thousand families.

 

Two young children in Tampa Bay at a graduation ceremony.

Two young children in Tampa Bay at a graduation ceremony.

 

Special thanks to Laura White, Executive Director of UCP of Tampa Bay.

 

To find out more about UCP of Tampa Bay and their programs, please visit their website at www.ucptampa.org.