The University Network

Forget GPA, Brands Are Prioritizing Students’ Passion In Their Scholarships

For decades, scholarships have helped students afford to go to college. And with student debt at an all-time high, they are needed now more than ever before.

Until recently, however, nearly every scholarship has been reserved for those who are either athletically or academically accomplished. Even equity-based scholarships such as Chevron’s, which is strictly awarded to Native American students, require applicants to have a high GPA or SAT score.   

That’s why it’s so exciting that companies like Taco Bell, Nikon and Dr. Pepper have created scholarships that prioritize a student’s passion.

Passion-based scholarships don’t measure a student based on what they’ve accomplished in the classroom, on the court, or on the field. Instead, they award students for their unique skills, talents and desire to pursue them.

Take Miles Spearmen, a recipient of Taco Bell Foundation’s Live Más scholarship, for example.

When Miles picks up his trumpet, he says it feels like a “release.” He doesn’t worry about school, grades, or anything else. He just focuses on how he can get better. And if there’s a song in his head, he’s going to learn it.

He said he’s always had aspirations to pursue music in college. But for a while he struggled to find the financial support to help him chase his dream. Each time he applied for a local scholarship, he was turned away.

After his final high school senior concert, however, he was granted a life-altering reward — a $25,000 Live Más scholarship.

Instead of being recognized for how fast he could run a 40-yard dash or how well he could craft an essay, Miles was rewarded for showing such dedication to his passion.

“Someone actually believes in me,” Spearman said in a video. “Not just my parents, not just people that have been with me for six years, but someone who looked at a two-minute video believed that I could really make a difference with music. That really changed my perspective … I can actually do this.”

But Miles is not the only one. In 2019, alone, the Taco Bell Foundation has already awarded $4.5 million worth of scholarships to 531 students.

Passion-based scholarships, like Taco Bell’s, have become increasingly common over recent years. Students no longer need to be a valedictorian, quarterback, or have a life-altering experience to earn money to pay for their education.

Nikon, for example, offers the Nikon Storyteller’s Scholarship, which rewards applicants for their passion in visual storytelling.

“We understand that it takes dedication to pursue and become successful in creative fields, and we are excited to play a role in supporting students’ achievement in academic excellence through The Nikon Storytellers Scholarship,” said Lisa Baxt, Nikon’s associate general manager of communications.

Nikon rewards 10 winners with $10,000 to help fund their tuition, books and supplies.

“Recipients of The Nikon Storytellers Scholarship are empowered to push their creative boundaries and pursue new projects to further their development as young creators,” Baxt said.

Then, there is the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway, which is one of the most unique passion-based scholarships.

In 2018, Dr. Pepper awarded over $1 million in tuition money to help college students “reach their biggest goals.”

Specifically, the company gave away five $100,000 dollar scholarships, five $50,000 scholarships, and 10 $2,500 scholarships.

However, unlike other passion-based scholarships, entrants to the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway don’t need to be pursuing a creative track like trumpet or photography, for example. Last year’s $100,000 prize winners included an aspiring public accountant, an aspiring app developer, an aspiring speech pathologist, an aspiring nurse practitioner, and an aspiring biochemist who wants to eliminate global food insecurity.

To apply, all students need to do is submit a brief but passionate video outlining their academic and professional goals and explaining how winning the tuition prize would impact their life.

But to win one of the five $100,000 scholarships, things get a little tricky.

After Dr. Pepper selects 20 finalists from all over the United States, the finalists compete against each other in a timed test to see how many footballs they can accurately toss through a hole in a giant Dr. Pepper can.

Just like in life, these students also need a little bit of luck to win.

In conclusion

Scholarships are, clearly, a vital piece to higher education. Without them, many young people couldn’t afford to pay for college.

And thanks to companies like Taco Bell, Nikon, and Dr. Pepper, not every scholarship is fixated on a student’s GPA or athletic ability. Now students can be rewarded for their passion and desire to hone their craft.

Hopefully, more companies will follow in suit. Students can use all the help they can get.