How I won $100,000+ in college scholarships
November 06th, 2007 - 28 Comments
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.
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):
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.
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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