Thanks to the efforts of the student group Scholarship Sharing, the first ever scholarship fair is coming to VCU this week.
Last summer, mass communications major Lorraine SantaLucia and three friends started a Facebook group designed to share scholarship opportunities they found and to help each other fund their own educations.
Within two weeks of accidentally making the Facebook group public instead of private, hundreds of students with a similar interest in finding education funding opportunities had joined the group.
Last year, the group decided to become an official VCU organization—Scholarship Sharing.
“At this point we have over 600 on our Facebook group, plus another 400 who are VCU chapter members and we continue to get requests to join the group everyday,” said SantaLucia, who is now president of Scholarship Sharing.
The fair will take place in the Student Commons in the Richmond Salons from noon-5p.m. on Oct. 9 and in the commonwealth ballrooms from noon-5 p.m. on Oct 10.
Students will have the chance to meet face-to-face with an expected 55 local organizations that offer scholarship programs at the fair.
SantaLucia said that many of the organizations that will be present raise funds every year but several of them receive only one, two, or sometimes no applications. When only a small number of applicants apply, they win by default, but when no applicants apply, VCU Donor Relations has to return the scholorship money to the donor.
“The donor then takes back their money, feels like they are not needed, and donates it somewhere else,” SantaLucia said.
The key to finding award money is applying for as many scholarships as possible, and not turning away from the smaller, external scholarships that are available, SantaLucia said.
“If you get a scholarship for $250, that’s textbooks right there,” said SantaLucia. “I applied for so many at a time in bulk that I would get a massive pile of rejection letters and two or three scholarships, but it didn’t matter because those two or three scholarships would add up.”
Since its beginnings last year, the group has received three awards at the VCU Leadership and Service awards: Outstanding New Student Organization, Best Overall Student Organization, and Best Special Interest Organization, which came with cash awards that totaled $700.
Through Scholarship Sharing, SantaLucia said she wants to rid the stereotype that scholarships are “only for smart people … Sometimes it can be as simple as coming from a single parent home … or based off of your ethnicity.”
Marquita Aguilar, Administrative assistant to the dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences is the founder of the Marquita Aguilar Scholarship Walk-A-Thon, formerly the Virginia’s Caring University Walk-A-Thon.
In the early 2000s Aguilar began the walk-a-thon to raise funds for students who have experienced financial setbacks and need help to complete their education. Now in its 10th yet a surprisingly few number of students apply.
SantaLucia reached out to organizations and individuals like Aguilar and invited them to have a booth at the Scholarship Sharing fair.“
We were trying to promote it the best we could,” said Aguilar. “I was happy that Lorraine asked us to come aboard and present our scholarship there. I think it’s going to help.”
The fair is designed to be mutually beneficial, both for donors and students. Psychology and Spanish double major Joyce Wong joined Scholarship Sharing because she didn’t know how to find scholarships that applied to her.
Since joining, she has applied for several, though she hasn’t yet received any award. “There were a lot of scholarships I didn’t even know existed. Together we made a huge list of them that I was eligible for though,” Wong said.
Fashion design and business double major Emily Rouse, vice president of scholarship sharing, said they also offer essay and resume writing workshops and can help students “start from scratch.”
“For every 100 that you apply for, you may only get one…but it’s definitely worth it, Rouse said. This year, the walk-a-thon has raised over $75,000 in scholarship funds for students..