Thursday, August 6, 2009

Universal scholarship application

It's hard to get money for college. I thought I had avoided the grab for cash by qualifying for Florida's comprehensive Bright Futures scholarship, but I recently discovered that my scholarship's funding was cut and I'm now liable for more than just the cost of my books. Now I have to devote some of my scarce and precious time to finding and applying to scholarships.

First, I have to find scholarships, sifting through pages of Google results to look for scholarships for which I'm eligible and capable of winning. Once I find some promising scholarships, I have to jump through their hoops, either filling out online forms or printing them out and faxing them in. Each essay prompt is slightly different, so each application requires a few modifications to my standard essay. When I'm done, I've lost several hours of my day to a few scholarships I'm not even sure I'll receive!

I've registered on, but half of the scholarships are restricted to high school students. The rest are large, national scholarships with big prizes and even bigger requirements. Whether the scholarship requires me to write a detailed essay on a long book or create a high-quality Youtube video, I'll be competing against thousands of students across the country. Unless I'm a genius writer or videographer, I would only be wasting my time and effort on a 1-in-100 shot.

To ease the scholarship application process for students, I propose a government-funded academic-achievement matching system. The network would be a universal platform for all students to get scholarships. The network would be linked to each state's educational database, and each student would claim his information when he became interested in applying for scholarships. Most vital info would be visible from the start, but the student would be able to block certain pieces of information. However, the network would emphasize the positive aspects of students' records over the negative.

If I was a student in this system, all my major info would appear automatically: homeschooled from fourth grade, standardized testing every year, 4.0 college GPA, etc. In addition, I could list my community service hours by simply sending my service acknowledgement letter to the scholarship network office for confirmation. Of course, the office would also confirm things like my family history and SAT and ACT scores.

When an organization wished to offer a scholarship, it would simply set the eligibility requirements and offer the scholarship to whichever students met the requirements best. If a scholarship required a specialized essay or test, the organizations could wait for interested students to apply (each student could see the scholarships available to him) or ask specific groups of students to apply. For example, a company asking for an artsy Youtube drama could invite students who listed "videography" as one of their interests. Any student could apply to any scholarship he was eligible for, but he would have to take the initiative.

Of course, there are a number of pitfalls a project would need to avoid: government bureaucracy, spamming, application padding, and privacy issues. The network would have to be private to protect the students, but it would also need to be accessible to interested organizations without too much red tape. It would be a difficult project, but it could actually save government money. Students who would be eligible for government aid would instead finance their education with private money.

I know there are a hundred problems with this plan, so please point them out in the comments section. Anybody want to check this one out?