Thursday, June 11, 2009

Strategies for Getting Your MLIS Degree for Free

by Teresa Mares

When I first began my quest for a master’s degree, my main concern was financing the costs involved. My future looked bleak as a single mother supporting two children, with a low-paying job. I knew I had to set high goals to gain financial independence in order to stop the cycle of poverty and need for state aid. At that time I did not realize that with minimal effort on my part, I would be able to get my education paid for and be debt free. Regardless of what many students may think, a debt-free education can be a reality for students who are willing to devote time and effort to secure scholarships and grants.

How is this possible?

At this point, you may be asking how this is possible. The answer is by using available resources like scholarships and grants that do not have to be repaid. There is an abundance of free money available to graduate students of all types. A common misconception for many students is that the majority of scholarships out there are based solely on need or merit. When trying to convince fellow students to apply for scholarships, I have been told, “It takes too long” or “I am not a minority.”

Do a little research to get cash

My first step was to conduct research and that involved borrowing books from the library. One of my favorites is How to Go to College Almost for Free by Ben Kaplan. Kaplan graduated from Harvard and won more than $90,000 in scholarships. He explains in simple language where to look for scholarships, and how to win them. Kaplan’s advice netted me more than $27,000 for educational expenses. One chapter in particular covers interview techniques, which I reviewed before participating in a tele-conference interview. I won the scholarship and attribute my success to Kaplan’s advice.

The Internet = Money

Kaplan recommends using Internet scholarship databases in order to locate the widest variety of scholarships. Some examples are: scholarships for re-entry students, students of Italian decent or law librarians. Internet databases can return numerous selections. Locating specific scholarships with limited applicants increases the odds of winning.
The Internet scholarship site I found to be the most valuable is FastWeb, which matches students with prospective scholarships and sends notices when deadlines are approaching. I was fortunate to be awarded a $2,500 scholarship as a
direct result of a FastWeb notice.

SJSU Resources

Lisa Valdez, the grant coordinator for SJSU-SLIS reports, “SLIS currently awards five scholarships each year to SLIS students, as well as six awards to graduating students. In addition, SLIS students are able to apply for a range of scholarships offered by the university.” These awards are specifically for LIS students.

Winning an SJSU scholarship identifies you as an up-and-coming information professional to school administrators, faculty and staff. It is also a source of pride to obtain a scholarship from your school of attendance.

Another easy way of applying for a multitude of scholarships at once is by completing a SJSU Spartan Scholarship online application. These scholarships are in addition to departmental scholarships. Students need to complete only one online application to be considered for over 900 general and departmental scholarships.

Additional funding sources

Additional sources like travel grants and funding to pursue research are also available. Travel grants help new information professionals with the cost of conference attendance and also foster networking opportunities.

I looked into the ALA scholarship website and was rewarded with the prestigious ALA Spectrum Scholarship. Spectrum has a financial award of $5,000, a three-day leadership conference and continuing opportunities to network with library and information professionals. This award convinced me of the power that can be derived from winning a scholarship. This scholarship forced me to define my goals, narrow my focus, create my curriculum vitae, and it thrust me into a bevy of leaders who would end up influencing the rest of my LIS education. I found a new sense of responsibility to the profession and to creating diversity within the profession. I am now a member of two diversity committees.

Another source is the Inland Empire Individual Development Account through the Community Action Partnership (CAP). I participated in the program and received $8,000 in funds. I used the money towards course fees, books, and supplies. The program requires individuals to save $2,000.00 and they match the funds 2:1. Participants attend twelve workshops that focus on financial knowledge, life skills, and educational goals. Programs like these may be available through other counties as well.

Sally Gomez, a SJSU-SLIS student, is a recipient of almost $15,000 in scholarships and travel stipends. Gomez advises looking at organizations within the community. Gomez says that these scholarships “...won't have nearly as much competition as a national scholarship.” An example of one in her area is the Fresno Friends of the Library group. They award $2,500 each year to a local student attending library school.

Some employers have tuition reimbursement programs. SJSU-SLIS student, Cathleen Baxter, receives funds from the San Diego Public Library Staff Education Grant and applies yearly. Baxter says, “With the high prices of classes, I could not manage on my own. I work two jobs to support myself and my two children and I pay for their education. The grant makes it possible for me to attend college and earn my MLIS.”

The big payoff

Over time I noticed that the more scholarships I applied for, the easier it became. Students who complain about time factors may be interested to know that with each essay, the process becomes quicker and their writing skills improve.

With a little effort, research and time, it is possible to win scholarships. The programs I have mentioned not only provide financial assistance, but help to develop guidance in the profession, networking opportunities and ease the burden of expenses. The result for students who win scholarships can be a means to finance their education and reduce the financial burden many face.

Teresa Mares is an MLIS candidate and works as a school librarian in Southern California. She hopes to graduate debt free in December 2009!

1 comment:

  1. This great information. Thank you for sharing! Once you get your MLIS degree check this out!