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How I won $100,000+ in college scholarships

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A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked for advice on getting scholarships for college, so I wrote her an email with my thoughts.

But then I realized that this advice is applicable to almost anything entrepreneurial. Getting scholarships involves being proactive, being persistent, building an infrastructure to scale and do more than most ordinary people, and then still being uncertain about whether you’ll get rewarded or not.

Below, then, is my original email answer — with a twist. I went through my entire archives on personal entrepreneurship (80+ articles!) and linked to the best articles to illustrate each point.

Original email:

When you get a chance, will you scribble down a few resources Angela can start looking into for college scholarship opportunities? No rush, just want to give her a few ideas.

My response (plus links):

Sure.

First, just something I noticed: A lot of people hope they get “a scholarship” for college. I’d suggest thinking about it as “I hope I get a bunch of scholarships” because $500 here and $1,000 there can really add up. Applying to lots and lots of relevant scholarships was what worked for me.

Here’s what I’d recommend. Go to your high school’s career center. Most of them keep a list of scholarships, sorted by date. Apply to every single one that’s relevant. After you exhaust your school’s, call up other high schools and ask them if you can go in there and talk to them and see what scholarships might apply to you. They’ll love this because no one ever goes to seek out scholarships. When I was in high school, I ended up applying to about 60 scholarships — all from my career center — and got a bunch of money for school.

For applying, you’ll need to write a few essays for different apps, but after the first 4-5, you’ll probably be able to cut/paste into other applications. That’s when it gets really fun and you can do 1-2 applications per day. Most of the apps will ask for your transcript, recommendations, and an essay (or a few short essays). You’ll want to think of the message you want to send in these materials — a lot of people just submit bland recommendations / essays that say “I am smart!” but everyone does that and it’s lame. For me, I took the entrepreneurship / business angle. What’s your angle? Make sure you tell recommenders what you want them to highlight by giving them your resume and a few key points that they should touch on in their recommendations. Most will be happy to do this.

Also, go to a bookstore or library and pick up their annual scholarship book. Kaplan has a good one that’s updated every year. Again, apply to every relevant scholarship.

Finally, talk to your friends and parents and parents’ friends. Lots of them have college scholarships at their companies. For example, my sister worked at Kaiser, which offered a college scholarship to relatives of Kaiser employees. My mom is a teacher and there’s a California Teachers Union scholarship.

Don’t bother with Fastweb.com. It’s online so there are 2358234 billion people using it, and nobody wins anything from it. Also, don’t ever pay to enter a scholarship.

What I found were a few keys to getting scholarships: Nobody applies, so you have a good chance if you just apply; write a really good essay and have lots of people proofread it (I’m happy to help if you want); know that you can control how good your recommendations are by giving them material and making it easier for them; and interviewing well (more on that once you get the interviews, which I’m sure you will).

Let me know how I can help. If you want advice on essays, interviewing, or anything else, just give me a call at (XXX) XXX-XXXX or email any time.

Good luck!

-Ramit

As I wrote here, it’s crazy the way people think about scholarships. They don’t apply, and 2-4 years later, they regret how much debt they’re in. And, just like with 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 to the bottom of this, and you want to do something entrepreneurial, try doing one simple step today. Not tomorrow, not after you finish that midterm, today. Take someone out to lunch. Send an email. Ask someone a question. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be today.

Curious about my specific techniques? See my post with more detail on the specific essay that helped me secure a large scholarship.

[Update]: Some notable comments from this post:

“Great advice! That’s how I won more than $100,000 in scholarships for my entire college education.”

“…I decided I’d take your advice and just do it and I was awarded a small amount with almost no effort on my part.”

“I also second going and talking to your financial aid office once you get to school. Just by asking for money, I got 17k over 2 years.”

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46 Comments

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  1. Ramit,

    Great thoughts on the subject. I was just approached by a friend looking for similar info. I’ll pass this post along to her.

    One thing I found during college was that many people don’t actually go after scholarships once they’re admitted. If you just sit down with your financial aid person and ask them what is available, they’ll probably be able to place you with a scholarship.

    If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

    – David

  2. I did get one scholarship through fastweb–they pointed me a state one I was eligible for. But I wouldn’t advise spending more than an hour a week looking through their choices.

    As it was, applied for scholarships and got 4. They were equal to about $23,250 per year. Which almost covered my degree. My parents paid for the rest as long as I got grades to keep the scholarships up (best one required 3.6 GPA).

  3. Great advice! That’s how I won more than $100,000 in scholarships for my entire college education.

    • Hi my name is Nica how are you I was wondering if you can tell me what sites did you go under for to sign up for a scholarship. My son is a senior and he wants to go to a performing arts school which I can not afford so if you can give me any advice it would be very much appreciated. Thank you

  4. Great advice! I will pass it along to my sister-in-law.

    I also second going and talking to your financial aid office once you get to school. Just by asking for money, I got 17k over 2 years.

  5. Great post!

    I’m a scholarship kid myself.
    Got a full scholarship all through school.
    The biggest one I landed was for volunteer work
    so no, you don’t have to be the sharpest pencil in the box
    or a super star athlete
    (I was neither).

    And yes, most people don’t apply.
    The odds and payoff is better than the lottery.

    • Wow, How did you get a full scholarship ? do you have any tips or something? That is something i really would like for the degrees im heading into.

  6. This is how I paid for college with only minimal debt when I graduated. I discovered a couple things during the process.

    Even if tuition is paid for, still get more scholarships. You have to pay for books, equipment, supplies, room and board in addition to tuition. Also, if you use scholarships for non-academic expenses (some can be used for room and board), they are taxed, so make sure to set aside money for that.

    If you get a bunch of small, one year or one semester scholarships, keep applying all through school. Every $500 check helps.

    Apply for Federal aid, even if you don’t think you’ll get anything. You may be surprised, especially if a parent gets laid off or you get a medical condition.

    Finally, just even applying may get you something. Like Ramit said, your odds are great, even if you’re not the smartest, most athletic, or you don’t volunteer hours and hours every week.

  7. Greetings,

    Good advice regarding the scholarships. I agree that there are similarities applicable to other endeavors, including entrepreneurship. In fact, the harder the process is for applying for a specific scholarship, the better chance you have since less people will even try to apply. The reality is that those that need the help the most end up not getting it because they lack the resources or aren’t able to network as the more privileged. Ultimately if you have the drive and realize that you can’t win every time, you have greater chance of succeeding, whether it is obtaining scholarships or starting your own business.

  8. To what extent does this apply to Business School? If my company doesn’t help pay, how can I earn money for B-school?

  9. Ramit,

    Yet another fantastic post. The thing I love the most about I will teach you to be rich is all of the fantastic content that you have posted. I do believe I can look up information on just about any subject relating to personal finance on your site and find it.

    This scholarship post I found especially true as I’ve never tried to apply for scholarships up until this semester but I decided I’d take your advice and just do it and I was awarded a small amount with almost no effort on my part. Keep up the good work!

  10. […] from I will Teach You to be Rich, shares an email he recently sent to a friend detailing tips and hints for getting scholarships. The advice is great and for those of you getting your children prepped for school or the high […]

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