I was doing a little website maintenance (I tell myself to do only a little at a time, or I tend to get overwhelmed - there's six years worth of work there on www.GirlsWithWings.com) and came across a page I wrote with advice for people looking for scholarships. Since we are now in the application window for the GWW Scholarship, it seemed a timely coincidence. I wrote this a couple of years ago after being frustrated yet again for getting an email that said something like, "I am very interested in your scholarship. Can you tell me if I'm eligible?" And I am so tempted to tell the person to go to the website and click on that little button on the navigation bar that says simply SCHOLARSHIP and start reading, for the love of all things obvious. And simple. Deep breath. I get enough of the emails that I thought a longer response necessary and so wrote the following webpage:
Scholarships and Financial Aid
(This is long, but "required reading." Please do not send an email to Girls With Wings asking about the scholarship before you read this information.)
So you want to fly (or dispatch or maintain, etc.) airplanes? Great! Aviation professionals are a special bunch and we usually have a lot of energy and enthusiasm for our pursuits. Well, you’re going to need it. Nothing in life is easy (how many times have you heard that before?), but more importantly, nothing in life worth anything is easy! So, it is time to hunker down and get to work on making your dream a reality. Feel free to take notes.
Funding a career in aviation can be quite intimidating (the necessary amount does, after all, involve a lot of digits). But just as we must do a lot of research and study before jumping in an airplane to go fly, we must also do our homework on scholarships, schools, instructors, etc. First, the bad news: there is no easy solution to getting money for training. Wouldn't it be great if we could send a message to a rich person or organization just informing them that we want to fly and get a check in the mail? Ha. You wouldn’t believe how many emails I receive from people thinking I am willing and able to do this just because they drop a quick email. You may be the most amazing person in the world, but it is not that effortless - unless you have a trust fund, and that still jumps only ONE of the many hurdles you’ll have to go through. From day one, the decision to learn to fly (or dispatch or maintain, etc.) is going to be a journey.
Write at the top of your notepaper what you want to do. “I want to be a Commercial Airline Pilot.” “I want to be launched into space by 2020” (hopefully you'll be an astronaut). And so on. There. That is your goal. Now everything you do from this point forward should move you toward this goal. This is your Mission in Life. The earlier you set yourself up in the beginning to achieve this, the more successful you’ll be. Get your Googler ready. Now, start typing and try to find people that have been successful doing this – read their memoirs, send them emails, etc. Use the Girls With Wings role model page too! Learn from their experiences. You may even discover that you’ll change your mind and head towards a different goal.
So now, start figuring out where you’re going to get your training for your dream job. College? Flight School? Military? Post a message on the Girls With Wings message board so you can find out how it’s working for other people: the reality of it for people in every stage of their training. Sound like too much work? It may be a small investment of your time to avoid some major goofs later (just ask my friend who paid a lot of money to go to a flight school where half of his flight time could not be logged – wasted coinage, people!). Got your flight plan - your destination and your route - planned out? Good, let’s crank ‘er up and take off. Oh wait; we forgot to add the fuel: the funds, the moolah, the cold hard cash….
Unless you have the aforementioned trust fund, this is going to be expensive. Estimates on the cost of a private pilots license is anywhere from $7000 to $10,000. Yup, there it is in black and white (or rather navy and white). You can use grants (usually through the government), loans, an earned income (that’s another way of saying a job), or scholarships, to help you on your way. Of course, we would love the kinds of money that don’t have to be paid back later. For instance, FastWeb offers a free scholarship search. (Registration is required.) This resource will also help you search and compare colleges, as well as find jobs and internships. For the most part, I advise using loans as a last resort, since it will be a long time til you are making a decent living in aviation – and compounding interest is expensive.
Grants: The Federal Student Aid program awards billions of dollars in grants, work-study, and low-interest loans to students and their families. You apply for these with one form, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which is available in January of the year you plan to enroll in college. Talk to your school counselor and teachers for ideas. In addition to helping you acquire federal student aid, many colleges offer grants, scholarships, and other aid packages of their own. There are many resource centers dedicated to helping students obtain information that will help you plan and finance a college education. A great example is TERI, whose Web site offers valuable college planning resources and information. TERI manages college-planning centers that offer one-on-one student guidance. You can find similar access programs in your state by visiting the National College Access Program Directory.
You may not be going to college because you’ve already graduated, or don’t feel it’s right for you, etc., so then what? Are you a lost cause if you don’t go to study Aviation Operations at a University? ...Have I convinced you to visit the message board yet? There are special sections that address other ways of pursuing your dream. We try to post on there as soon as we hear about any new aviation opportunity. Also, consider asking the Girls With Wings role models featured on the website individually to ask how they researched, worked at and financed their goals. They might be able to direct you to industry specific assistance currently available. They may have even gone the “easy” route and had the military pay for their training. Is this for you? That’s a personal decision and it’s tough to get one of those rare flying slots in the military. Plus, you then have to WORK for the military, and this may be your job for years! And the work is not easy, take it from me. But this is an option to research.
So now to the most popular way of paying for training: Scholarships! Yes, just stand under the wealth-erfall with a bucket and catch all that money spouting out all over the place… Bzzz (that’s an alarm clock awaking you from that dream). Got your Google on yet? - Use the internet find scholarships! As silly as it sounds, there are so many scholarships out there that just go unused. Not only to organizations like Women in Aviation, International, have flight training and other scholarships, but also non-aviation organizations such as those for just women in general, or local scholarships, such as through your Rotary or Kiwanis because people either don’t find out about them or never get around to filling out the application. A good place to start is money2fly.googlepages.com or www.wolf-aviation.org/scholar. [p.s. The Wolf Aviation Fund made a contribution to Girls With Wings as we were getting started. This, as I will talk about in a sec, involved a thorough application process….]
Now all you have to do is send them an email – proper spelling, punctuation, capitalization and grammar optional. Just fire them off a fragment of a sentence (don’t even waste your time with a whole one), just telling them to send you a full bucket. By overnight delivery. Include a smiley face. Woo-hoo, that was easy. Yeah, right. I assure you I take into consideration scholarship applications that are sent to me that I have to spell check before I can even comprehend them! It appears that the applicant doesn't care about the little things, and yes, as a pilot, it's those little things that can lead to big mistakes.
You have a choice to make here, people! Take the high road or the low lazy road. Invest some time and energy now and it will pay off later! What do I mean? Make yourself irresistible. Show your worth, your potential, and your strengths from Day 1. What does your resume look like? Were you a Girl Scout? Were you in the Civil Air Patrol? Have you received any awards? What have your various jobs taught you? Aww, nothing, you say, nothing I can put on a resume…. I disagree (and I don’t even know you!). If you have the drive to get into aviation, you surely have accomplished other things in your life. That job working the counter at the fast food joint – wasn’t that “customer service?” Didn’t that teach you to deal with unhappy clients and resolve conflict (a very good skill to have in a two person cockpit)? Here is a link to a very basic resume starter. But don’t stop there. Keep updating and improving your resume – the easiest and most professional way to inform a potential financial supporter of your worth (and why they should invest in you). Add a cover letter to it; explaining in paragraph form what you are seeking by sending your resume… aw, you’re golden!
And to whom do you send this golden resume? I found information on and links to numerous scholarships by typing in a search for, you guessed it, “Aviation Scholarships.” Some of them are posted on message boards. An online search is always a useful place to start. Aviation Societies and Associations offer scholarship and other aid programs. Some may focus on a particular field or on a particular group of applicants (e.g., women or minorities). You can locate organizations by doing a Web search and by checking out the Sloan Career Cornerstone Center, which offers a comprehensive list of math, science, and engineering societies and associations.
But wait. Don’t just fire off that application until you search for and READ THE REQUIREMENTS! That’s in capitals because it’s important. I’ll even yell it out again. READ THE REQUIREMENTS! What good will it do to send off a perfect resume if it's received two days past the deadline? What if you fax it and it was supposed to be mailed? Or mailed instead of faxed? What if the scholarship was for Inuits in Alaska and you’re a Southern girl, born and bred? Not only are you wasting your time, you’re wasting the organization’s time (aviation is a small community – and you don’t want to burn any bridges you might have to cross later on. Swimming tends to wrinkle our interview suits *hint-hint*). For example, why send an email to ask about a scholarship in March when the scholarship has been clearly defined as being announced in July (yes, I’m referring to the GWW scholarship, btw, but still people call and email anyway – renew my faith in my sisters, please!). READ the scholarship guidelines, look for a FAQ page, and if you still have a question, send a clear, professional, polite email to them (illustrating you read the information, but still have a point to clarify). The assumed faceless board of scholarship-awarding-people may be just one decision-making-person that appreciated/ remembered the email you sent (ah-ha, you made a good first impression!).
Uggh, you say. That’s a lot of work. I might get the scholarship anyway with little to zero effort, wouldn’t that be great? Yes, if you believe luck is going to get you what you want out of life. You buy lottery tickets, don’t you? Take ten minutes to scribble out an essay and it will take the scholarship evaluation board ten seconds to disregard your application (you will clearly convey that you don’t care all that much – and why would they give their money to someone who will fritter it away?). The first scholarship applications (like your college entrance apps, if you went that route) are tough. But then you learn the tricks of the trade, and get into the groove, and, hey, this is kind of fun (since it’s reminding me to keep my grades up, and do a little volunteer work, and do a better job of keeping my logbook up to date, etc.).
Finally, I wish I had an easy answer for you. I joke around a lot because if all I did was tell you it was tough, you’d stop reading and go get your bucket and wait for pennies from heaven. The scholarship process has been made a bit easier by the internet; now you can find out just how many there are available to you. What hasn’t - and will never change - is that the process is just as long as it’s ever been. Once you find out about an available scholarship, you still have to apply by the deadline and sit and wait to find out if you’ve won.
Did you read this whole thing? Awesome. See, you’re already willing to invest what it will take to be successful. Now, just keep it going! If you ever need any encouragement from Girls With Wings, get on the message board and let us know. We want to see you succeed, that’s why we’re here. Good luck to you and keep us posted on your progress!
Ok, now read the requirements for the Girls With Wings Scholarship!
...Sadly, I don't think this often gets read because I still get emails asking the same questions time and again. You can lead a horse to water and all that. Thankfully, the vast majority of the scholarship applicants and, of course, winners, are truly gems. I only wish I could offer more scholarships.... Wait, we did go from one $1000 award to TWO this year... so maybe we can keep increasing the number of deserving applicants. With help from people like you. Donate to next year's scholarship here. Thank you.