• Personal Finance Interview with Kari Obrien for Mint.com

    If you're looking for money to help pay for college, as well as networking opportunities to help you land internships and jobs after graduating, becoming a member of an organization like the National Society of Collegiate Scholars can offer you a leg up.

    Kari O'Brien, senior manager of marketing communications with the society says they give away almost $1 million in scholarships to members annually and are always looking for opportunities to help members grow -- whether it's by leading major projects or getting the opportunity to listen to influential speakers.

    We recently checked in with Kari to get her insight as to what NSCS offers college students and alumnus.

    Kari, tell us a little about the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

    The National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS) is an honors organization that recognizes and elevates high achievers. NSCS provides career and graduate school connections, leadership and service opportunities and gives out nearly a million dollars in scholarships annually. NSCS members are deeply committed to scholarship, leadership and service and as a result, are impacting their campus and local communities every day.

    How can a student become a member?

    You must have a GPA of 3.4 or higher in your first or second year of college. Members receive invitations in the mail through NSCS or their university.

    What are the benefits of membership?

    Our benefits include scholarships, career partnerships, discount benefits, signature programs and the opportunity to be part of a network of high achievers during your college experience and after you graduate. Our programs include Academy Abroad, a study abroad program, and PACE, our student mentoring program.

    The program I'm most excited about right now is ScholarCon, our high achievers convention this summer Orlando, Florida. We've partnered up with two other honor societies, Kappa Omicron Nu and Alpha Sigma Nu, and have A-list speakers including John Legend, Meghan McCain, Jerry Greenfield, Kal Penn and Eric Kuhn. In addition we will have 30 Spark Sessions focusing on entrepreneurship, leadership and social good, and our Career Bootcamp, offering interview preparation, resume reviews and personal branding advice.

    NSCS recognizes the biggest challenge facing students today is the job market. Our ScholarCon sponsors, Liberty Mutual and Dream Careers will offer our members internship and career opportunities. Another ScholarCon sponsor, GEICO offers exclusive discounts for our high achieving members. In addition to our ScholarCon partners, we've partner with New York Life, Deloitte, Teach for America and various start-ups looking to recruit high achieving students.

    Tell us about your scholarship program?

    This fiscal year we will give away nearly $1 million in scholarships. We've tried to cover all the needs of our students, including the Military Service Award, the Jim Duncan Award for Perseverance, named after a former NSCS employee, and multiple study abroad scholarships, including one for our signature program, Academy Abroad.

    One award I'm really proud of is the "First in the Family" scholarship, which we started just this year. Our chapters and alumni have been raising money through Razoo accounts to help NSCS members who are the first in their family to attend college. This scholarship has been extremely popular.

    In addition to scholarships, we also seek to encourage entrepreneurship with grants like our $20,000 Stephen E. Loflin Founder's Award and our $2,000 Engaging Race grants for social entrepreneurs.

    What are some best practices you can offer students on applying for scholarships?

    First of all: Apply! In marketing I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to let our students know about our scholarships. Some scholarships do really well, but others that seem more complicated, like the Perseverance award, do not. If you don't know if you qualify, you can always email and ask for clarification. Second: Don't procrastinate. Many of our scholarships require a recommendation letter or submitting a video. Don't wait to ask for a recommendation if you need it, and start work on your application early so you have time to redo it if you need to.

    What are the biggest mistakes you think college students make when it comes to seeking scholarship money?

    Probably not researching all the scholarships they are qualified for, or thinking that there are so many people applying they won't get it. I think they would be surprised what their chances are. We have a goal of nearly a $1 million in scholarship to give away. Most scholarships are about $1,000, and not every member needs a scholarship. That means NSCS members have pretty good odds.

    How do you help prepare students for life after college?

    NSCS stands for leadership, scholarship and service. By joining an NSCS chapter, you have opportunities to serve as an officer and learn how to organize projects, speak in front of a group, delegate tasks and be a change-maker. All of your peers are also high achievers, so we like to say NSCS members make "Geek chic." We recognize academic achievement and honor those who have a desire to continually learn and improve themselves.
    Finally, we strive to create a lifelong commitment to service. Encouraging students to do service projects with their chapters in school, and programs like our ScholarContribute Day of Service, look to teach the value of community service early on.

    Our alumni are an increasingly important focus, and we've been working to develop new benefits for alumni. Our alumni benefits include graduate school partners like Kaplan Test Prep, GRE and GradschoolMatch. Last summer we offered both a graduate school and a debt relief scholarship. We have also hosted NSCS alumni networking events in major cities and our looking for new ways to keep alumni connected with one another. One of our other goals with alumni is encouraging them to give back to NSCS undergraduates through initiatives like the "First in the Family" scholarship.

    What advice does your organization offer students on paying for their education?

    Other than applying for NSCS scholarships, we do encourage students to look for outside resources. We've partnered with our founding school, George Washington University, to offer a $20,000 transfer scholarship for students coming from a community college. Going to a community college for the first two years and transferring to a four-year school is a great way to save money and still graduate with a four-year degree.

    I would also encourage looking for paid internships. I'm proud to say all the NSCS internships here in DC are paid. Personally, I only took paid internships in my undergrad and it helped me build my resume in social-media marketing. For positions like video editing or engineering, it's a great way to build a portfolio or demonstrate ability to future employers.

    Another great resource on the college cost dilemma is Jeffrey Selingo's book, "College (Un)Bound". Jeffrey was the keynote at the launch party for our high school program, Torch and Laurel. His book discusses the rising costs of college and the psychology of choosing a college in depth. He did significant research for the book, including field work with advisors and prospective students. His reporting on Massive Open Online Courses from premier institutions, how students are combining credits from multiple universities and the rise of noncredit courses through companies like General Assembly, shows how the college experience may change dramatically in the future.

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