As of 2018, 69 percent of college students in the United States take out student loans, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve. One of the few ways college students can avoid breaking the bank is to apply for scholarships.
Eastern students seek out scholarship opportunities through AcademicWorks. The system is home to over 600 scholarships and auto-matches students to opportunities based on their general application and information the system pulls from the students’ PAWS accounts.
Mallorie Fonseca, who has been the financial aid adviser manager since October 2018, said this year is the first “full cycle” of using the AcademicWorks system. The university officially started opening scholarships for the 2018-2019 school year in January 2018, with a majority of the transition occurring over the summer.
“I’m pretty hopeful that it’s going to be helpful for students and departments and our office and basically all over campus,” Fonseca said. “The whole intent is to make it easier for students to find and apply for scholarships. My goal is that it gets there.”
Fonseca said in some ways, they are still in a transition period.
Myrtle Castro, a second-year graduate student studying history, is one of the students who has experienced difficulties with AcademicWorks during this transitional period.
As a graduate student, Castro thought her options would be limited. After filling in the general application on AcademicWorks, she said she was surprised to see how many opportunities were available for her.
“There were a good number of graduate scholarships available, but there was this one graduate scholarship that I thought was a little bizarre. I figured it was too good to be true,” Castro said. “One of the questions literally just said, ‘Are you are a graduate student?’ So of course I did it, and then I think two days later I got an email from the graduate school saying there was this huge mix-up, and it turns out there was more to the application. It was 10 questions, and first three didn’t even apply to me.”
Incoming students have been prepped on how AcademicWorks operates, but current students are not as familiar with the system or are not even aware of it at all. Fonseca said she wants to try to send out a survey over the summer for current students in order to figure out how to effectively educate them on the system.
The general application for AcademicWorks only has three questions. The first requires the student to agree to authorizing the release of the information in the student’s records so the selection committee can evaluate and select scholarships for that student, the second asks for the student’s name and the third asks for the date the student fills out the general application. Along with the general application, AcademicWorks also pulls information from a student’s PAWS account, such as GPA, major and year in school.
Fonseca describe the process as a “profile match.”
“Instead of reading 600 applications, it’s narrowing it down to like these 50 you are most likely to receive. But it can’t account for those things it can’t pull in,” Fonseca said. “So of course with the recommended opportunities you are going to see some you are not eligible for, but on that same note, when you look at all scholarships, you might find others that maybe the only thing it’s looking at is GPA. And so you’re like, ‘I have a 3.2 and it’s asking for a 3.0, so I know I can get this.’ It depends how you are looking at it.”
Fonseca said it can be tricky because the recommended opportunities make it look like the system has less than it does. However, there is an option to look at all scholarships, and there students can see over 600 opportunities are available.
Ultimately, Fonseca said her goal is to just rely on the auto-match so that it is easier for students to use the system and they don’t have to waste time reading everything.
Carole Hodorowicz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]