Every year, students enroll in college and about 70% also enroll themselves in the “loan trap”. I was in the 11th grade, sitting in the 12th grade lunch period. My older sister (who was graduating that year) and her group of friends were conversing about college and how excited they were. Their excitement slowly started to fade when they began talking about how they had no way to pay for college unless they looked to loans as an option. It was in that very moment that I made a commitment to change my story so I wouldn’t have to bet against being in debt in order to get an education. Within 1 years’ time, I walked across my high school stage fully funded for my entire college career. How did I do it? Here are a few tips!
The Scholarship Hunt
When I talk to students about scholarships, I more than always find the reason they don’t apply is because they don’t know where to find them. I’m here to tell you that scholarships are everywhere!
If you’re in high school, start with your Brace Advisor. Their main job is to cater to your college preparedness needs; that includes applying for college and providing ways to pay for it (scholarships, grants, financial aid). My Brace Advisor was my first step in self-funding my college career. She had monthly newsletters FILLED with scholarship opportunities that I would apply for. My Brace Advisor became a mentor for me overtime. See what yours has in store for you!
The second option for your scholarship search is the internet. We spend 90% of our time on there already, so why not spend some time increasing your college fund? My favorite website is Unigo.com (previously scholarshipexperts.com). There are many others like scholarships.com and Fastweb.com. They are super user friendly and actually do the hard part - matching you with all the scholarships you qualify for. Once you sign up, be sure to fully complete your profile. Your only job from there is to apply!
Applying: Putting Your Best Story Forward
So, you’ve found the scholarships and are matched with hundreds that you actually qualify for, congrats! You’re already half way to winning. What’s next? Your essay! I hope I didn’t lose you after reading that.
A lot of students I talk to dread writing and are usually discouraged from applying because of this. I want to light some fuel in you to let you know that you have it in you to write the greatest, winning essay ever written. Only you can tell your story and carve it into a masterpiece.
It’s true, there are scholarships not needing an essay. You can just write your name and you’re added to the lottery to hopefully have your name chosen. While those scholarships are easy and quick to apply for, they’re the hardest to get! Why? Well, everyone is adding their names! You know what most may not be doing? The ones that require essays. So, guess what that means? If you chose to apply for the ones requiring an essay, your chances of winning are high!
So, how do you right that winning essay, you ask? Well, most scholarships ask the same question: “Explain why you deserve this scholarship”. The best secret to answering that question is to: Tell YOUR “Why”! What is that? The very thing that makes you get up out of bed every single day, or the reason you want to be successful in life. Ask yourself, what keeps you going and allow that to help you pen your essay.
My why was my mother who suffers from schizophrenia. In high school, I was her caretaker and it was the most challenging load I’ve ever had to carry. I was driven by it and allowed it to help me create the best essay I used for every scholarship I applied for. Of course, I did a bit of tweaking to the essay here and there, depending on the specific question, but it made applying a breeze. All you need is one GREAT essay. Spend a day writing it, so you can spend your college year’s debt free!
Finding The Time To Win!
We find time for what matters to us the most. I don’t motivate people to apply for scholarships. If going to college for free doesn’t motivate you enough or being debt free, there are no words I can say that would. We make time for our friends, family, sport games, reality TV shows, Instagram, SnapChat and Facebook. It’s up to you to squeeze in some time for your financial future.
I remember going to Dunkin Donuts on Holiday breaks, summer breaks and weekends applying, applying, and applying! Think about what those around you are doing during the Holidays and breaks. Most likely not scholarship applications. So, your chances are already increased by default. I’d come back from break with thousands of dollars added to my college bank. Doing this for a year allowed me the privilege of never having to worry about the financial burden of a college career.
The Decision Is Yours
It’s now 2018 and we are now in a trillion dollar hole that keeps increasing. The great news is there’s an abundance of options to avoid the loan trap. The U.S. Department of Education alone has created $46 billion dollars in scholarship and grant money made available to students. That’s not including the many opportunities found on scholarship networks. Setting aside some time to apply for scholarships is the best advice I could give to future college students. Loans follow you even after you graduate, and at times can take 10-20 years to finally pay back. Save yourself the stress of class payments. That energy should only be used to focus on passing your classes and #livingyourbestlife. Great job on deciding to apply. All the best to you!