My Story: The Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship

Note: Guest blogger Isla M. shares her insights about the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. If you have any questions or comments about the scholarship or process, please comment below!

Applying for scholarships can be very stressful. The Jack Kent Cooke scholarship application is one of the more extensive applications I’ve dealt with, but if you are willing and dedicated enough to put in the effort, the payoff is incredible.

I was awarded the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship in May 2016, a few days after graduating from Manor College with my Associates in Science. Receiving this scholarship has been a life-changing event. The Jack Kent Cooke foundation provides up to $40,000 a year for up to two years for tuition, fees, books, living expenses, and even child care expenses for recipients with dependent children. It is important to note that the foundation doesn’t wish to displace any financial assistance (FAFSA, merit scholarships, institutional aid, etc.) that students will be receiving upon transferring. They simply wish to bridge the gap between the financial assistance scholars are already receiving and the financial assistance they need.  

The Cooke foundation works tirelessly to make the transfer from your two year school as easy as possible by not only providing financial assistance, but also a network of people and resources outside of the financial aspect of the scholarship. Cooke scholars are even eligible for graduate school funding of up to $50,000 a year for up to four years! As someone who has grappled with the application process, I want to provide some insight on my experience to help other potential scholars in the future.

The application portal opened in early October of 2015, which is standard for each year. We were given until the 3rd week in December to submit our applications. This sounds like a lot of time, but for an application that requires cooperation from professors and parents as well, there’s no time for procrastination. I will go over each part of the application below:

  • The most important thing to fill out in the beginning is your parent information request and letters of recommendation requests. This means you must input your parent’s emails for them to submit financial information and the emails of those you wish to submit your recommendations. It is strongly suggested that the recommenders be academic professionals who are familiar with your work in and outside of the classroom. Getting these requests sent out early is crucial because it gives everyone involved sufficient time to fill out their application portion, which is fairly extensive also.
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Isla with one of her mentors from Manor College, Julie Senecoff.
  • The next portion of the application was for short answer and essay questions. The best thing to include in this section is what makes you a unique candidate. The Cooke foundation receives countless applications each year (over 2,000 to be exact), so they love reading about the unique life experiences that have made you who you are. No detail or accomplishment is too small to mention. In one essay, I spoke about the time I learned to solve a Rubik’s cube in under a minute and how it was a motivating factor for me to apply to college. This section is the only time you get to write directly to the foundation, so be honest about yourself because it will go a long way. Eventually, you are also asked to include the activities you are involved in on and off campus. This is a good chance to include everything you aren’t able to mention in the essay portion.  
  • A section that can be a bit discouraging is one in which you are asked to list any honors and awards you’ve received. This section almost resulted in me not finishing the application. I found that I hadn’t received many awards throughout my time in college. It made me think that because of this, I wasn’t deserving of the scholarship; however, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  As long as you convey your passion and heart for the things you do in the other portions of the application, you have nothing to worry about.
  • There are other sections where you are asked for other information such as a self-assessment, previous academic history, criminal history, and college transcripts.
  • One of the most important sections is the financial assessment. The Cooke foundation works hard to bridge the gap for academically bright students who simply can’t afford college. Academics are as big of a factor as financial need.  On average, for scholars who have been previously selected, the household income for each parent is around $25,000 a year. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t apply just because your parents make more than this amount. This is why parents fill out their own financial application. Parents can be open up in their section about other financial responsibilities that aren’t conveyed by a tax form, such as sick family members or other debt. There are also other options for older students that no longer depend on their parents. You and your parents should be prepared to provide various tax forms to prove your household income.

You can continue to check back on your application portal to see when your recommenders and parents have submitted their portions. It is also suggested that you submit your application ahead of the deadline, because heavy server traffic the day of can cause a delay. Late applications will not be accepted under any circumstance. Once all the portions of your application have been submitted, your application is considered complete. After this, all you can do is wait.

The first time I heard back from the Cooke foundation was in early March when I was notified I was selected as a semifinalist. This was extremely exciting and gave me a lot of hope! Of the 2,300 applicants, it had been narrowed down to around 500. At this time I joined an online forum on the College Confidential website specifically for those who had applied for the undergraduate transfer scholarship in 2016. I highly recommend this because it’s nice to know you’re not alone in this long process.

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Isla speaking at her graduation.

After the semifinalist notification, I received another email requesting more financial information from me and my parents. Then, about a month later in April, I heard back again. This time the foundation requested that I let them know which colleges I had been accepted to and for my fall 2015 transcript. This sounded like a good sign, so at this point I had very high hopes. Notification of award status was being sent out to transfer counselors and advisors by the Cooke foundation between early and mid-May. All of the students on the scholarship forum were a nervous wreck, clutching our phones in hopes of getting that fateful phone call. Many recipients were being surprised at their graduations, so when I didn’t hear anything back at my own, I was sure I didn’t get it. This was truly a heartbreaking thought.

Eventually, about a week after I graduated from college on May 12th, I received a phone call from my transfer counselor notifying me that I had been selected as a Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer scholar! I will never forget that phone call; it was so shocking I had to sit down. Apparently, the Cooke foundation had the wrong email, which is why I was notified after everyone else. This is why it is important that your school’s contact information on the Cooke foundation website is up to date.

Completing this scholarship application and waiting five long months to hear back was not easy. I had to accept my offer from La Salle University before knowing if I could even afford it. It was truly a leap of faith. When I volunteered to do all of the activities I did throughout my time at Manor College, I wasn’t expecting it to lead to this scholarship. When I learned about this opportunity in the fall of my sophomore year, I applied because I was encouraged by friends and faculty. I didn’t have the slightest idea that I had a chance of winning. It is great to encourage other students to also apply with you like I did with my good friend, Sofiya, especially because you will have someone to share your thoughts and concerns with. Transfer counselors are also wonderful resources for questions about the application.

I was lucky enough to have so many supportive people at my school who were willing to take on the application process with me. I encourage any hard working transfer student with financial need to apply for this scholarship, because you’ll never know what you can accomplish unless you take a chance.

– Isla M.


TW IslaMy name is Isla Martinez and I am a recent Manor College graduate from the class of 2016. I earned my Associates in Science, but I want to further my education as a biology transfer student at La Salle University this fall. I grew up mostly in Norristown and Phoenxiville, Pennsylvania after moving to the United States from Mexico when I was 5 years old. This has really impacted my perspective on life, so I strive to live each day to the fullest! I am passionate about environmental conservation and animal rights, even though I hope to work in the healthcare field one day. I also love hiking, reading, cooking, and spending time with family, friends, and my wonderful boyfriend.
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