Forget debt, be a student scholar

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Forget debt, be a student scholar

Amber Montgomery / Columnist

Amber Montgomery / Columnist

Amber Montgomery / Columnist

Amber Montgomery / Columnist

By Amber Montgomery | Columnist

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Pitt has many great opportunities it can offer to its students. I know this sounds like a line fed to you many times by information sessions, orientation brochures and Pathfinders, but it is true.

I didn’t realize just how true this was until I applied for a grant to fund my three-week research trip to Jordan this summer. I had originally asked for $2,200 and crossed my fingers. But when I got the email saying I’d gotten the scholarship, it wasn’t for what I asked for — it was $5,000 instead.

Departments all across Pitt have programs, scholarships and opportunities to help students pursue independent projects, gain leadership experience and set them apart as a dedicated and well-rounded student. And we often don’t make the most of these opportunities — so much so that some scholarship groups cannot even get enough applicants to take their money.

These opportunities aren’t for everyone — you do have to work for them. But for students who set themselves apart with their coursework, student clubs or volunteer experience, there are rewards out there for you — if you can be bothered to take them.

There are dozens of scholarships offered through the University Honors College. Many offer financial aid in the form of covering tuition costs or providing stipends for students pursuing individual research projects while some are more specific. The David C. Frederick Scholarship is for high-achieving juniors who currently work to help pay their tuition and the Richard A. Lombardi Award provides funding for super senior engineers who wish to pursue an additional non-engineering degree.

Many of these awards do prefer their applicants to be involved in the UHC but taking Honors courses, living in Honors housing and attending UHC events are all considered legitimate involvement.

Pitt also offers scholarship advising through the UHC for national scholarships, to help Pitt students compete for such awards, but most are for postgraduate opportunities or international graduate study. The UHC hosts information sessions twice a week during the fall and spring semesters and students are free to schedule as many one-on-one advising appointments as they wish to receive feedback on their essays and applications.

Many of the timelines for these national scholarships include working on the applications over the summer. The advising team meets with applicants in Oakland as well as over phone and Skype. And if you want to take a gap year after graduation before applying, they are eligible to help you with your applications all the way up until you begin graduate school.

These scholarships are fairly well-known, you just have to have the time and dedication to pursue the extensive application process — using Pitt’s resources makes a huge difference. But perhaps the best kept secret when it comes to Pitt scholarships are departmental awards.

While they’re not huge scholarships, they can be very helpful in funding tuition, textbooks or Chipotle runs. They’re less competitive than the big national scholarships, or even the university-wide scholarships, because they’re generally pursued only by people in or involved in the department — for those who know about them, anyway.

Almost every department offers something: History has small, but helpful scholarships for students studying abroad; economics offers research grants, essay competitions and scholarships for outstanding undergraduate performance and the biology department offers scholarships both for excellent first-year students and for upperclassmen working on research projects.

“Even if students are not perfect candidates for an award, they should apply anyway. You never know, and the effort of the application is worth the potential reward,” said Andrew Lotz, a lecturer and academic adviser in the department of political science. “Sometimes no one else applies.”

For those passionate about learning languages, the Global Studies Center offers Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships for the academic year and the summer. The Summer Language Institute at Pitt teaches varying levels of Russian, East European and Near Eastern language programs, some of which offer a study abroad option over the summer. All students are encouraged to apply for their scholarships.

Not all of these scholarships are the kind that will fund your entire undergraduate education but they can help to reduce student loans or hours at  part-time jobs and distinguish yourself as an exceptional student, both worthy of a scholarship and dedicated enough to seeking one out.

I wouldn’t have been able to complete the research I needed for my project if it weren’t for the funding I received and I’m extremely grateful for the extra money I was offered. But I don’t think they would have given me so much if there had been anyone else who had even applied.

The scholarship was specifically for undergraduate international research projects, which is a relatively small pool of students in the first place, but it could be more. There’s funding all over the University to support special projects and programs students can do to help enrich their education and make them a competitive candidate for bigger opportunities later on.

Look into it. Check with your advisor and ask your departments to see what kind of money might be waiting to help you.

As for advice, Lotz suggested that students ask about scholarships early and plan to apply ahead of time, in accordance with deadlines.

“Work in advance if you want to maximize your chances,” he said.

While I personally don’t mind reaping the benefits of leftover scholarship money, there’s enough funding out there for anyone interested, if they bother to look into it.

Amber primarily writes about gender and politics for The Pitt News.

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