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Academic scholarships provide students with aid

As the Board of Regents increases tuition at South Dakota’s state universities, students must find ways to pay for college. By applying for scholarships offered by the state and individual universities, students have the opportunity to receive funding that they never have to pay back, as long as they meet the requirements.

For South Dakota students, the state offers the South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship. The Opportunity Scholarship awards $5,000 to eligible students through four years of college at participating institutions. The scholarship is only offered to South Dakota residents who receive a 24 or higher on the ACT and graduate high school with a 3.0 GPA.

BOR Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Paul Turman said the Opportunity Scholarship has been offered since 2004 and is one of the biggest scholarships the state offers.

During the 2011 legislative session, South Dakota officials started the Jump Start Scholarship. To qualify for this scholarship, students must graduate from high school in three years.

Turman said the state essentially reimburses students for the amount it would have cost the state for them to go through another year of high school.

“Not many students applied for this scholarship this year,” Turman said. “But I expect them to take advantage of it in the future and I think high school students will start planning coursework to be able to graduate within three years.”

The Dakota Corps Scholarship pays full tuition for students who qualify based on grades, community involvement and other areas. But one stipulation is that students who receive this scholarship must agree to work in South Dakota after they graduate for one more year than they received the scholarship.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s Chief of Staff Dusty Johnson said South Dakota hasn’t always had a scholarship program.

“The Opportunity and Dakota Corps Scholarships show that state leaders are more dedicated to higher-level education and making if affordable for students,” Johnson said. “As the cost of higher education rises, people need to recognize the importance of scholarships.”

While the Opportunity, Jump Start and Dakota Corps Scholarships are all offered to South Dakota institutions, USD has scholarships unique to the institution through private donors and the USD Foundation.

Director of USD’s scholarship program Joni Freidel said students who apply for university scholarships have to start planning before their senior year of high school.

“Our scholarship application program involves looking at leadership, involvement, community service and academic performance,” Freidel said. “Our top applicants demonstrate these through almost all of their high school careers.”

USD offers six types of scholarships dependent on academic achievement, six field of study scholarships, two scholarships that grant students early admission into law or medical school at USD and scholarships based on talent.

Freidel said President James Abbott nominates faculty and alumni for a scholarship committee, which Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences Tina Keller leads. After students submit their online application that includes grade and ACT/SAT information and essays, the scholarship committee reviews each application and selects around 200 students to visit campus for Scholarship Days, Freidel said.

During Scholarship Days, students compete for scholarships through individual interviews with a small interview committee made up of professors, USD alum and current students. Freidel said based on performance at Scholarship Days and their online application, the scholarship committee awards 66 scholarships for the upcoming year.

“The scholarship committee measures how committed prospective students are in coming to USD,” Freidel said. “We then have a good return rate on high quality students because they’re dedicated to USD.”

As tuition rates rise and more students apply for college, Freidel said it can be hard to stand out to committee members.

“It’s a holistic thing,” Freidel said. “Students that stand out, stand out in all areas. We put a huge emphasis on writing ability. I’m proud of the university’s scholarship committee for selecting such great recipients.”

Freidel said the majority of scholarships the USD Foundation supports are only available to incoming freshmen. Once enrolled, Freidel said students can qualify for other scholarships based on their major and through those departments.

“Students have to prove themselves and show that they’re committed,” Freidel said. “They have to connect with faculty and work hard in their major’s classes.”

Sophomore Pearl Nielsen is one of the recipients of the Presidential-Alumni Scholarship, which awards students $7,000 a year. Nielsen said receiving the scholarship helped her choose USD for college.

“The scholarship is definitely helpful because you don’t really have to worry about working while you’re in school,” Nielsen said. “It can also make students work harder in classes because we have to keep grades up to keep the scholarship.”

Nielsen said having one of the larger scholarships can put added stress on students the first year.

“When you come into college, you hear all of these rumors about how much harder it’s going to be than high school,” Nielsen said. “Freshman year I was a little stressed, but now I’m more laidback. It’s definitely more of an advantage than a stressor.”

Reach reporter Cassie Bartlett at [email protected].