Each year, South Haven High School seniors can apply for thousands of dollars worth of college scholarships offered by community groups.
Yet, few students take advantage of doing so.
Local scholarships are offered through such groups as the Greater South Haven Area Community Foundation, the South Haven Chapter of the American Association of University Women, the South Haven Kiwanis Club, South Haven Rotary Club, the Devon “Devo” Smiley Leave a Legacy Award, the Edward Bocock Memorial Scholarship and several others.
In all, 15 local scholarships, totaling $60,000 are available to graduating seniors each year, according to Dene Hadden, scholarship chair for the South Haven Area Community Foundation.
Three endowed scholarships offered through the foundation alone – The Grace J. Calvin Scholarship, South Haven Community Memorial Scholarship and the Richard and Mary Barden Scholarship – create $42,000 annually in scholarships.
“The number of applicants for these scholarships has been low for a number of years in spite of efforts to increase applicants,” Hadden said. “Some scholarship programs like the Grace Calvin and Community Memorial have had very few applicants for many years.”
Hidden said the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation.
“It was determined last year that there were more than 80 South Haven High School graduates that were eligible for one or more of the available scholarship, but only 10 applied,” Hadden said.
A simplified effort
Those statistics aren’t lost on Kelly Netzley, South Haven High School’s new college and career readiness advisor.
“In the past, there were some scholarships that received no applicants,” she said.
It’s a situation that’s concerned the school district and the community foundation over the past several years. This year, they’re doing something about it.
The foundation and school district have worked together over the past several months to develop a way to attract more applicants.
They settled on working with AwardSpring, a company that developed an online application to give students easier access to applying for multiple scholarships offered by community organizations. The website launched Jan. 5, with students having until March 1 to submit their applications.
Students can visit the website, southhavencf.awardspring.com, where they will find a list of 15 community-based scholarships. The process of applying for the scholarships were simplified so they are quite similar to each other. If a scholarship requires specific requirements that have to be met, students respond accordingly.
“We believed an online common application would encourage more students to apply for scholarships and take advantage of the funds this generous community is offering to them,” Netzley said. “In the past, it was very difficult. The last two years were especially difficult with so many students learning remotely. Many scholarships with different requirements and due dates were hard to keep track of. Many students are involved in multiple extracurricular activities, have jobs and family obligations in addition to six academic classes with tests and homework to prepare for. They just weren’t taking the time or didn’t have the time to keep track of it all. With the online system, it is all in one place.”
‘A missing piece’
Students appear to like the new online application process.
“South Haven High School seniors have already begun applying for these scholarships with 21 having begun the process. Ten students completed at least one application in just 10 days,” Hadden said.
Students are also getting help from Netzley, whose position was created earlier this year in the district’s efforts to increase career opportunities for students once they graduate.
“This (the career and planning counselor) was a missing piece,” said District Superintendent Kevin Schooley. “It helps to have someone help you navigate opportunities that are available to high school students.”
The new online scholarship application is one of the ways that Netzley is helping students think about their future.
She said there are even more community-based scholarships available to students, especially since South Haven is a small community.
“There are already 15 on our site and there are several more that aren’t,” Netzley said. “In my experience, this is exceptional support for local students given the size of the community… I have come to realize that South Haven is a very giving community and truly wants to see the students succeed.”
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