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Scholarship Money: Only an Application Away

Local non-profits granting scholarships for higher education are finding it difficult to attract interest.

When the deadline for applications for the Council for the Arts of Herndon scholarship arrived after a little more than a month of being open, the non-profit organization’s officials who prepared to grant $10,000 to students pursuing the study of the arts couldn’t believe it. Only one student had applied.

"We were a little surprised, especially since we’re giving away about $10,000 every year," said Grace Wolf, president of the CAH. "You would think that if people told you they had free money to go to school, they’d be knocking down your door."

CAH administrators began to call up teachers and put the word out to Herndon residents aged 13 to 21 who were studying some form of art that there was a lot of scholarship money available. It essentially came down to calling people on the phone and asking them if they wanted to apply, said Vicky Dorman, vice president of the CAH and the manager of the scholarship program.

After extending the deadline for a week, they attracted a total of eight scholarship applicants. Six of them received scholarships totaling about $9,600 to attend art schools and workshops, according to Dorman.

While the CAH blames a lot of the initial low turnout on the late timing of the application announcements, Dorman acknowledged that this year was the lowest number of applications received for scholarships in recent history.

THEY WEREN’T ALONE.

While scholarship applications to many local non-profits had increased from last year, managers of scholarships for Herndon graduates are beginning to wonder why there haven’t been more applications filed.

For the school year that just ended, the Herndon-Dulles Chamber of Commerce had just 10 applications for scholarships to study business or technology out of an estimated 125 students eligible, according to Eileen Curtis, president of the HDCC. While the chamber ended up awarding three scholarships, Curtis said that she’d like to see a broader pool of applicants.

The annual HDCC scholarship is open to students who are family members of commerce members who are going to college to study business or technology.

"While we had a relatively good year for scholarship applications, it was just 10, and that’s not a big interest," Curtis said. "I think a reasonable expectation would be to see thirty or forty applicants."

SCHOLARSHIP GRANTERS find it difficult to pinpoint the reason for why these applications have been so low in numbers.

"I think there are a lot of reasons," for applications falling short of expectations, said Tessie Wilson, a representative of the Braddock district for Fairfax County Public Schools and the president of the Fairfax Scholarship Fund, a non-profit that awards scholarships and helps Fairfax County students seek out financial aid to attend college. "If you’re talking about kids who [don’t speak English natively] or are new to the country, they might not know because the concept of scholarships is foreign to them."

This past year, the Fairfax Scholarship Fund received 88 scholarship applications — up from 52 the previous year — from as many as 10,000 graduating seniors from high schools in Fairfax County, including Herndon High School, Wilson said.

They initially printed 1,000 applications.

"The application process can be a bit intimidating … a lot of kids don’t want to go through with filling them out," she added. "The bottom line is, if you’re not aggressive about it, you’re not going to get scholarships."

Wilson remembered one instance in which a student informed her that the reason he had received a scholarship was because he was the only one who applied.

CURTIS SAID THAT while a lot of the success of attracting a large pool of scholarship applicants hinges on advertising the scholarship, some students don’t have the time or the desire to go through the application process.

"One of the things might be that families in the area are well enough off [financially] that their children didn’t feel the need to fill out the paper work," Curtis said.

"Some of us might look at it like, ‘I can afford to send my kids to college, but it’s nice to get some money,’" Wilson said. "But for when we can’t, that money will be less that will have to be taken out on a loan … for some people it means the difference between going to college and facing reality."

"There are some kids out there who want to take classes, but they’re not able to because … the books are too expensive," she added. "That’s the advantage [in applying for scholarships], you can get the chance to take classes."

BOTH THE HDCC and the CAH said that they are hoping to expand the amount of money given in scholarships next year and hope to see a larger scholarship applicant pool.

While the CAH was inspired by the broadening range of different types of artists to which it awarded scholarships, Dorman said that in order for the arts to continue to thrive in Herndon, they need to help develop more local artists with a personal connection to the town.

"We need the kids … who live in Herndon who have a passion in any venue for the arts and who want to make that passion a reality to come and apply," for the CAH scholarships, said Dorman.

"For us to have this money and have to go around and ask people if they want money to study … it just doesn’t make any sense," she added. "There’s got to be kids out there who want money."