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How to win scholarships and graduate debt free

by Will Geiger, on Dec 6, 2019 10:41:06 AM

A few years ago, I was at the end of an information session about Kenyon College, where I worked in admissions, and was opening up the floor for questions. I saw a young man wearing a red sweatshirt sitting in the corner raising his hand. I pointed at him to ask his question.

“How much does it cost?” he said.

It was a question I sadly heard often. I got into admissions to help great students, regardless of their financial situation, access a high quality education. The fact that the total cost of attendance at many institutions is a quarter of a million dollars is a challenging reality to grapple with.

“Well,” I responded, “the sticker price is similar to other private colleges—about $60,000 per year—but the actual cost can be much less.”

I went on to explain our generous financial aid program—how we met 100% of demonstrated need, and offered a wide variety of merit scholarships. But the fact remains that the “sticker price” of higher education is a hurdle for many students. Getting into a number of great colleges may be the primary goal in the admissions process, but just as important is figuring out how to graduate with as little student debt as possible—and that means applying for scholarships. The months between submitting your application and receiving decisions are a fantastic opportunity to apply for scholarships, which are essentially free money. 

One of the biggest mistakes that students make is thinking that they won’t qualify for scholarships because they aren’t straight-A students. But there are tons of scholarships for students of various backgrounds, interests, and experiences!

When you’re applying for scholarships, follow these three steps for success:

  1. Research the organization or college offering the scholarship you’re applying for. This will help you understand where the organization or college is coming from: their mission, goals, and the type of student they are hoping to support with the scholarship. For instance, some scholarships are intended to support students who have a particular career aspiration. Other scholarship providers might target students who are involved in serving their local community. Your research will ensure your response represents you as the type of student the provider is looking for. (Avoid recycling other essays for scholarships—it is very obvious to the scholarship committee readers when a student is simply reusing an existing essay!)
  2. Showcase your personality and interests. The best essays are written as stories, with lots of details, dialogue, and description to help you authentically reveal who you are and what you can be counted on in the future. The organization awarding the scholarship is making an investment in you, and telling a powerful story gives them a sense of what their “return on investment” will be. (If you need guidance, check out our free, step-by-step writing platform, StoryBuilder. It’s built on a system that has helped over 200,000 students write successful scholarship and admissions essays!)
  3. Edit your scholarship essays to make sure that there aren’t any typos or errors. It’s helpful to ask someone else to review your essay, such as a family member, friend, or guidance counselor. If you’re like most students, you will be applying for multiple scholarships and writing lots of essays. This review process is crucial for catching anything that might reflect poorly on you.

The key to winning scholarships is a combination of breadth and depth: you want to apply to a wide variety of scholarships, but you also want to align your scholarship applications to your personality and passion as much as possible. These are the two key ingredients to a successful scholarship application process!

As a next step, create a StoryBuilder account to begin building your essays. Best of luck!

Topics:college admission