Key To Securing Scholarships

By Chris Rutherford and Ruben Watson

Many of us dream of receiving a guaranteed, four-year, full-tuition scholarship to any college. For some seniors throughout Michigan, this is not a dream, it is a reality.

College advisers from College Advising Corps (CAC) programs at both Michigan State University and the University of Michigan have helped seven seniors apply for and receive the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship (GMS).

The GMS Program, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was established in 1999 to provide outstanding low-income underrepresented students with an opportunity to complete an undergraduate college education in any discipline they choose. The GMS application is extensive, requiring the completion of eight essays, recommendations speaking to the students’ leadership and community service, and a nomination from school staff. Competition is stiff: only 1,000 GMS scholarships are awarded annually.

This year, College Advising Corps advisers helped seven students in Michigan successfully navigate the GMS selection process:

Benton Harbor High School – 1 recipient

Fatema Aktar, a Gates Millennium Scholars Winner

Fatema Aktar, a Gates Millennium Scholars Winner

Detroit International Academy for Young Women – 2 recipients

Romulus High School – 1 recipient

Southwestern Classical Academy – 2 recipients

University Preparatory Academy – 1 recipient

Receiving news of a GMS scholarship is life changing.

“My mom texted me in the middle of the program and just said ‘you got it.’ I literally ran out of the room, called my mom and she told me the news. My whole family was so excited and proud of me,” said Sakila Islam of the Detroit International Academy for Young Women. “I don’t think it has hit home yet, but receiving the news was definitely a finalization of the fact that I really can reach my dreams.” (More information).

Sakila never thought college was a possibility. She re-located to America from Bangladesh. Now, as a GMS, she is looking at a completely different future as she heads off to the University of Michigan in the fall. The other six GMS recipients from our programs also never thought college was feasible, but five will also be attending the University of Michigan and one is heading to Syracuse University.

In addition to GMS, advisers from both College Advising Corps programs at Michigan State and the University of Michigan provided support and guidance to seniors at 50 Michigan high schools, which has resulted in earning over $34 million in scholarships this past school year. These scholarships certainly make college more affordable and help minimize debt after college graduation.

There are various components that go into a student successfully securing scholarships. One of the keys is surrounding a student with the proper support. Scholarship applications can feel overwhelming and unattainable. Having someone beside a student – ideally who is from a similar background and has succeeded and graduated from college – can go a long way.

This is one of the core components of College Advising Corps’ near-peer model in which recent college graduates are trained and placed at partner high schools to support – not replace – existing college guidance counseling staff. Advisers help students navigate the college admissions and financial aid process.

If you are a high school student in any of our Michigan schools where there is a college adviser, tap into their knowledge, expertise and support as you think through scholarship opportunities. Find the mentors who were once in your shoes and have succeeded to where you want to be. There is tremendous power when someone can say: “I understand your situation. I had the same exact fears and doubts. If I can succeed, so can you.”

If you are an adviser, understand how the power of your experiences coupled together with the training you receive can truly change lives in profound ways. Educators and policy-makers need to also be aware about this model and use it as a source of best practice.

It truly does work. Sakila Islam knows this very well. It is in part the reason she is packing her bags for college this fall, embarking on a journey that will open her up to all sorts of new opportunities that she never thought was possible.

Chris Rutherford is Program Manager for the Michigan College Advising Corps part of the Center for Educational Outreach at the University of Michigan. Ruben Watson is the Program Coordinator for theMichigan State University College Advising Corps. This past academic year, advisers from the two respective programs held over 33,000 one-on-one meetings with students throughout the state. In addition to the scholarships, the advisers helped students fill out over 3,500 FAFSA applications and submit nearly 17,000 college applications.