Do you know the biggest mistake a high school student can make?
No, it’s not posting their dumb selfies online.
It’s NOT applying to scholarships for college.
Let’s make one thing clear: ANYONE can earn a scholarship. It doesn’t matter what background you have or even if you were a straight-A student. As long as you have a solid system in place, you’ll be able to earn some money for college.
I know — because I BUILT a system that helped me earn over $100,000 to go to Stanford.
And the beauty of that system is that it’s applicable to almost anything entrepreneurial. After all, applying to scholarships is all about:
- Being proactive
- Being persistent
- Building an infrastructure to scale — and do WAY more than most ordinary people
That’s why I want to share the exact system I used to earn six figures in scholarships for college today.
Ramit’s system for finding, applying, and winning scholarships
Adopt an application mindset
Applying to college scholarships is much more than Googling “good scholarships” and applying to the first few you see — it’s a whole mindset that you have to adopt. Let me explain…
One thing that I’ve noticed is that a lot of people hope they get “a scholarship” for college.
Instead of hoping you get any scholarship, you need to shift your mindset to “I hope I get a BUNCH of scholarships.”
This mindset of abundance helps you view scholarships in a way that’ll affect how you approach the application process. After all, $500 here and $1,000 there can really add up.
With that in mind, you’re going to want to apply to as many scholarships as you can. It’s a numbers game, and many scholarships have only a handful of applicants.
Use every resource at your disposal — applying to any and all relevant scholarships you can find. Only by doing this can you hope to win any of them.
Find the scholarships that will earn thousands
If you’re a high school student, you already have a HUGE wealth of scholarship resources available to you. They can be broken up into three distinct areas:
- High school career centers
- Library and bookstore
- Friends and family
With these three resources, you’ll be able to earn thousands of dollars in scholarship money — here’s how:
1. High school career centers
First, go to your high school career center. If your high school doesn’t have a career center, your school’s counselor can help you with this too.
Most high school career centers keep an updated list of scholarships sorted by date. Go through this list and make note of every single scholarship that applies to you.
NOTE: Many scholarships have certain parameters you need to follow in order to apply. For example, many scholarships require that your GPA be above a certain threshold to apply. Others are ethnicity-based scholarships, such as the Asian & Pacific Islander Scholarship.
You should literally be writing down the information for each one — you’ll need it when you actually start the application process.
Once you’ve exhausted your school’s list of scholarships, call up other high schools and ask them if you can go in and talk to them about what scholarships might apply to you.
That’s right. I want you to call up other high schools in your city to see what scholarships they have. They’ll actually LOVE this because no high schooler ever goes out of their way to get scholarships.
If you show just a little bit of initiative in your educational future, they’ll be more than happy to help you out.
Do the exact same thing you did with your school’s scholarship resources and record all the ones relevant to you.
When I was in high school, I ended up applying to 60 scholarships from my high school’s career center ALONE — and earned thousands for college in the process.
2. Library and bookstore
Once you’re finished exhausting all of the scholarships from your high school, head to a bookstore or library and pick up the latest copy of an annual scholarship book.
These books are comprehensive catalogs of grants and scholarships you can earn as a high school student. They’re FANTASTIC resources if you’re looking to find cash for college.
Here’s a list of a few good scholarship books to look for:
- The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2017 by Gen Tanabe and Kelly Tanabe ($18.11)
- Scholarship Handbook 2017 by The College Board ($21.75)
- Scholarships, Grants & Prizes 2017 by Peterson’s ($23.29)
I’ve included the Amazon links here so you can check them out — but I highly suggest purchasing these at your local bookstore so you can get started ASAP!
Once you get the book, you’re going to want to do what you did with your high school’s scholarship resources and make note of all the scholarships to which you can apply.
3. Friends and family
Finally, talk to your friends, parents, and parent’s friends. There are a lot of companies that offer college scholarships — companies that the people you know work at.
So ask around! Some of the best scholarships come from some of the most unexpected places.
I should know. When I was applying for scholarships, my sister was working at Kaiser — which offered a college scholarship to relatives of Kaiser employees.
My mom is a teacher and she knew about a scholarship offered through the California Teachers’ Union.
These are scholarships barely anyone applies to because many high schoolers simply don’t know to ask about them. So when you DO find out about one, you automatically have an advantage on everyone else.
And if you feel odd about it, know that every person wants to help out a high schooler. They won’t think it’s “weird.” In fact, they’ll find it admirable.
Of course, finding the scholarship is just part of the game — you still have to actually apply.
Keep it all organized
Be sure to record all of the scholarships you’ve found in a Google or Excel spreadsheet so you can keep track of them all.
When recording, I suggest you write down the scholarship name, the amount it’s worth, a due date, and whether or not you’ve applied yet — at MINIMUM.
When you put it together, here’s what it might look like:
Of course, you can be as detailed as you want with your spreadsheet and include things like GPA requirements and whether or not you need an essay.
Be sure to keep your spreadsheet updated and safe. It will come in very handy when you’re actually applying to the scholarships.
Which brings us to my favorite part…
Apply to ALL the scholarships
I LOVED applying to scholarships. It involved some of my favorite subjects:
- Chris Rock (You read that right)
And when I was finished, I had a huge amount of money to show for it.
One thing I realized while applying, though, was that there was an easier way to go about the process that DIDN’T involve writing 60+ unique essays.
Don’t get me wrong: Each application is going to take time and a bit of nuance in order to create a compelling case for you that’ll have the reader clamoring to give you the scholarship money.
But you can make the process a lot more effective and simple if you just look at the basics of ALL scholarships.
Most scholarship applications will ask you to do 2 things:
- Send a letter of recommendations
- Write an essay (or a few short ones)
With that in mind, pull out that list you compiled and start looking at the requirements to apply. You’ll want to think of the message you want to send to each.
Letters of recommendations
Most high school students are afraid to ask for letters of recommendations — and I don’t blame them. It’s a little bit awkward to ask a teacher or other trusted adult to write a glowing recommendation for you.
HOWEVER, if you were a good student and established a good relationship with your teachers, they’ll be more than happy to help you out with your letter of recommendation. Most students NEVER DO THIS so they’d be happy to help.
You’re going to want to approach it the same way I approach asking for a testimonial: politely and with the majority of the work done already.
So when you reach out to your teacher for a letter of recommendation, you’ll want to give them several things:
- A broad view of what you want them to highlight
- 2-3 key points they should touch on (maybe it’s something specific to the scholarship?)
- Your resume so they have a reference to your accomplishments
If you provide them practically everything they need, they’ll be more than happy to give you an awesome letter of recommendation. In fact, many teachers will just ask you to write a draft that they can edit and sign.
Write a college application essay that stands out
When it comes to writing an amazing scholarship essay, I’ve developed a highly complex intricate process of algorithms and systems that you need to follow EXACTLY if you want your writing to soar.
The steps are:
- Figure out what most students will write about
- Write something else
…and that’s it.
FACT: Most scholarship essays bore judges.
Put yourself into the shoes of the person who will be reading your application — they’re going to be reading hundreds, maybe even THOUSANDS of these a day. And the fact of the matter is 99.99999% of the applications they read will be almost exactly the same.
Oh, you got good grades? You were in a bunch of extracurriculars? That mission trip you took to Honduras junior year was “life-changing”?
Get in line.
If you fall into the same formula as everyone else, I guarantee you your application won’t get a second glance.
However, if you subvert the expectations of the scholarship judge, you’ll grab and hold onto their attention — allowing you to properly make your case.
To do that, you need to follow the aforementioned two steps.
Step 1: Figure out what other students will write about
You’re sitting down at your laptop, the scholarship essay prompt is in front of you, and you’re ready to dive in.
Before you write a single word…STOP!
Think about the other people applying to the exact same scholarship — what are THEY going to be writing about?
What’s the easy answer to the prompt…and how can you subvert that?
Back when I was applying, I had one essay prompt that asked, “If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?”
Classic prompt. So I started thinking.
Nelson Mandela? Meh…that would be the “logical” choice. And to be honest, dinner with Mandela wouldn’t be the most exciting thing for a 17-year-old kid.
Maybe President Clinton? That’d be cool for bragging rights…but what would we talk about?
Given this prompt, I could have just written some BS about Mandela or the President but I would have sounded like every other person applying to the scholarship. Plus, I didn’t really want to meet them.
It’s almost like the people applying forget that it’s a competition. Would a coach say to his players, “Okay guys, we’re playing against every team in our division next week, so we’re just going to do the same plays over and over”?
No. So why would you want to do that too?
So when it came to who I wanted to have dinner with, I decided to go with my gut and pick someone different: Chris Rock.
Step 2: Write something unique instead
When you take a step back and consider the common answers to the prompt, you’ll be able to come up with an answer that will subvert the judge’s expectations and keep their attention.
In my case, while other students wrote about historical figures, I chose Chris Rock, the famous comedian.
My essay went on to argue that though he was perceived simply as a comedian, he’s actually a highly astute social commentator. His jokes revealed the things we want to say but won’t articulate — because we’re afraid to.
I even deconstructed one of his jokes and went into an in-depth analysis of why it was an examination of the racial attitudes our society holds.
And it worked.
My approach was offbeat — yet it remained professional. When you’re looking for the unique angles, you shouldn’t make it offensive or inappropriate. Instead, aim to make it deep, personal, and a little bit against the grain.
To show you what I mean, here are a few common essay prompts — as well as the boring responses judges will typically see AND an example of a good answer.
Typical boring answer: “No way! We should be paying that money to teachers and firefighters. Athletes are just playing a game.”
What’s wrong with it? You could find this opinion in the “Letters to the Editor” section of any newspaper. It doesn’t matter if the answer is right — it plays everything safe and is BORING.
Better answer: “Salaries aren’t decided by fairness. They’re decided by supply and demand. LeBron James is a millionaire because millions of fans pay to see him perform. Besides, if the athletes weren’t getting the money, the owners would. Those are the only two options.”
Typical boring answer: “I would end world hunger. Every man, woman, and child deserves this basic requirement of human life.”
What’s wrong with it? The reader makes no human connection to you. Why on earth would they want to read more?
Better answer: “My life changed forever when I spoke at my best friend’s funeral. Standing there under the storm clouds, I felt a personal duty to make sure no one sees suicide as their only way out.”
Typical boring response: “The middle class is America’s heartbeat. We need to put big corporations in their place to make room at the table for everyone.”
What’s wrong with it? This is such a cliche answer, the judge won’t help but roll their eyes. Reading an answer like this will have them mentally checking out before you can say, “Full-ride scholarship.”
Better answer: “Classes aren’t fixed groups of people. Most of us move in and out of different classes throughout our lives. In fact, many people who were in the middle class twenty years ago are in the upper class today.”
These answers practically grab you by the lapels and COMMAND attention. They stand out like a lighthouse in the ocean of boring applicants.
This is the difference between following the crowd and hoping for the best versus thinking strategically and winning the game.
Key things to remember
After you write the essay, get at LEAST two other people to proofread it for you. You might think your first draft is perfect — but chances are it’s not. Plan to go through a few drafts before you land on the one you’ll be submitting.
- Barely anyone applies to the majority of these scholarships — so you’ll already have a huge advantage by applying at all. The Craigslist Penis Effect is strong with scholarship applications. Leverage that knowledge.
- Some scholarships require you to interview — so you need to prepare. Remember to prep for it by practicing interviews a LOT. That means doing them in front of a mirror, having your friend run through questions with you, and reading up on interview strategies. Here are a few great resources from IWT that’ll help you:
Just like with your personal finances, you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room — you just have to get started. Scholarships are a proxy for everything entrepreneurial.
If you’ve read all this, and you want to do something entrepreneurial, try doing one simple step today. Not tomorrow, not after you finish that midterm, but TODAY.
Take someone out to lunch. Send an email to that professor you admire. Ask someone a question. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be today.
It’s easy to take the “safe” route. It’s much tougher to build your own confidence to do things differently — let alone at all.
But if you’re willing to take that first step, I want to help you.
Join my free email list to learn my secrets to earning more, learning, and finding a passion that’ll earn you money forever.