Braille Monitor                                                    November 2009

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The Secret to Winning a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship

by Anil Lewis

Members of the 2009 NFB scholarship class and the scholarship committee had breakfast together one morning during convention. Here a group of students and mentors get to know each other.From the Editor: Anil Lewis is president of the NFB of Georgia and a member of the NFB board of directors. He also chairs the National Federation of the Blind scholarship committee. Now that the application for the 2010 scholarship program is on our Website (, it’s time for his annual article about the process. This is what he says:

Each July at our national convention the National Federation of the Blind gives a broad array of scholarships to recognize achievement by blind scholars. We offer thirty scholarships ranging in value from $3,000 to our $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship. The NFB Scholarship Program is our investment in the future of blind people who demonstrate scholastic aptitude, leadership, and service. As the chairperson of the NFB scholarship committee, I work to encourage every blind college student to apply. I am often asked what the secret is to winning an NFB scholarship. I am going to tell you the secret.

First of all, applicants must meet the eligibility requirements to receive a scholarship. All applicants for these scholarships must be legally blind; must reside in one of our fifty states, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico; must be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time, postsecondary course of study in a degree program at an accredited United States institution in the fall of the 2010-2011 academic year, except that one scholarship may be given to a person employed full-time while attending school part-time; and, if chosen, must participate in the entire NFB national convention and in all scheduled scholarship program activities.

Many think the key to becoming a winner is a high grade-point average. Others believe it is based on participation in extracurricular activities. Still others think it is one’s level of commitment to the NFB. While grade-point average is important because it demonstrates the ability to learn and be successful academically, it is not the only attribute that influences the scholarship committee. Participation in extracurricular activities is important in portraying oneself as a well-rounded person; it is not sufficient in itself to justify a scholarship award. Committed members of the organization recognize the attributes that are important to committee members when determining who wins a scholarship. The scholarship program is a tremendous tool for us to develop future leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, but scholarship awards are not restricted to members of the organization.

The National Federation of the Blind is an organization dedicated to creating opportunity for all blind people. To that end recipients of NFB scholarships need not be members of the National Federation of the Blind. Many of our past winners were not even aware of the NFB before they applied for our scholarships. When you check the records for past winners, you will see that students of all ages and in widely differing fields have won over the years. The class of 2009 included students entering their freshman year on up to older students who were nearly ready to write their PhD dissertations. The winners of 2009 are currently working toward credentials for employment as diverse as social worker, elementary school teacher or guidance counselor, lawyer or judge, speech pathologist, author, history professor, foreign service officer, electrical engineer, supervisor of civil rights mediators, rehabilitation counselor of the blind, occupational therapist, physical therapist, researcher in computational chemistry, economic journalist, Spanish interpreter-translator, and biomedical researcher.

There is truly only one way to win an NFB scholarship, and that is to apply. Each November the new, updated scholarship application forms are posted on the Web at <> along with important information about the contest, links to information on past winners, and a page of frequently asked questions. The online application form for 2010 will be available from now until the contest deadline on March 31, 2010. The process can be initiated with an online application, which we prefer, or students can download a print application from the site. Any students who do not have access to the Website may contact the scholarship office to request a print copy of the form and other necessary materials.

A complete application consists of the official application form and a student essay, plus these support documents: student transcripts, two letters of recommendation and proof of legal blindness. The student must also complete an interview with his or her NFB affiliate president (or designee) of either the applicant’s state of residence or the state where he or she will be attending school. High school seniors must also include a copy of the results of their ACT, SAT, or other college entrance exams. Unfortunately, many applications are incomplete, so the committee is unable to consider them fairly.  

Applicants should be sure to provide all the requested information, along with support documentation. Applicants should carefully consider who can do the best job of writing their letters of reference. Letters should support the application by being full of facts and observations that will help the members of the committee see the applicant as a smart, active student and citizen. Students can write their essays using word-processing software. They should remember to use the spell checker (or a human proofreader) before printing or copying and pasting it into the online application form. In an effective essay the applicant will talk about his or her life in a way that gives the committee insight into him or her. The essay should cover the ways in which one lives successfully as a blind person and describe one’s personal goals for the future. Committee members give the essay a great deal of attention.

The NFB scholarship committee is comprised of dedicated, successful blind college graduates, who will review all applications and select the top thirty applicants as the scholarship class of 2010. Note that students submit just one application to the program; the scholarship committee will choose the thirty winners from all applications received. These thirty scholarship winners will be notified of their selection by telephone no later than June 1. Finally, during the annual convention the scholarship committee will decide which award will be presented to each winner.

Attending the entire NFB national convention is one of the requirements to become an NFB scholarship winner. Of course attending the convention is also a significant part of the prize. This is the largest gathering of blind people to occur anywhere in the nation each year, with 2,500 or more people registered. If chosen as a scholarship recipient, each winner will have the opportunity to network with other blind students, to exchange information and ideas, and to meet and talk with hundreds of blind people who are successfully functioning in many, many occupations and professions. Our past winners often comment that the money was quickly spent, but the contacts they made and the information they gathered at convention have continued to make their lives richer than they ever imagined.

Often students apply more than once before winning a scholarship, so applicants are encouraged to reapply. The NFB may award three or even more scholarships to men and women who have already received one Federation scholarship in the past if enough strong and worthy candidates apply. Individuals receiving a second NFB national scholarship are recognized as tenBroek Fellows. The secret, if there is one, to winning an NFB scholarship is to read carefully the application on our Website and then provide all of the required information and supporting documentation before the deadline of March 31, 2010. However, I maintain that there is actually no secret. The only way to win an NFB scholarship is to apply.

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