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Finding Free Money for College

Finding Free Money“The choices you make right now will impact you for the rest of your life” ~ Kristina Ellis. 

Every time that you think the price of a college education couldn’t grow more ridiculously expensive, costs go up again. As a high school counselor, I can remember sharing my concerns about the rising costs with parents ten years’ ago.

“The most expensive school in the United States is George Washington, where tuition, room and board, and books has reached just over $50,000.00 a year. I doubt if it will go much higher,” I said.

Little did I know at that time that costs would continue to rise exponentially every year. Today there are more than 40 schools nationwide with fees in excess of $60,000/year.  Harvey Mudd in California the most expensive at $67,255.

The impact of these growing costs is more and more debt heaped on the shoulders of our Rising college costs, scholarshipscollege graduates, with last year’s students carrying the highest debt load in history at $215 billion dollars!  

None of us question the need for a college diploma. That one piece of paper has become almost essential in securing a good career. So what are parents and students to do to minimize college debt?

Act Now to Reduce College Debt

The good news is that there are steps you can take now that will save you thousands of dollars in the future. A little pre-planning will go a long way towards leaving college debt free. Before you search, however, each student has to lay the groundwork for scholarship success.

According to Kristina Ellis, author of Confessions of a Scholarship Winner, there are four basic qualities that will create the foundation for any student to achieve scholarship success: Fearlessness, Drive, Discipline and Following Directions.

“Fearless is living in spite of those things that scare you to death,” she said. This means pushing through any fears that you may have and taking the risk to put yourself out there. Drive is the desire that motivates you to reach for a goal and take the steps to achieve it. Discipline keeps you to on track in achieving that goal no matter what obstacles are in your way. Following directions sounds easy, but for some students it’s the hardest step. The key to success is following the directions of those who have succeeded before you.

Darnel Butler, admissions counselor at Embry-Riddle in Daytona Beach, shared his story which exemplifies all four of these qualities:

“I was in 11th grade when my Dad told me that there was no money saved for college. My Mom had passed away a couple of years before, and it was all Dad could do to provide for us. He told me about a scholarship opportunity where I’d need to purchase and plant five trees at the local elementary school and then write an essay about my experience.

“I didn’t have any money to buy those trees, so I asked the store manager at the local Home Depot for help. I offered to get him free publicity from the local TV station and to work for him the next weekend for free if he would donate the trees.

“I enlisted the support of three local TV stations, who, to my surprise, all arrived that Saturday to interview both the manager and myself. I worked hard that day, cleaning toilets, scrubbing floors, and helping customers. The following week, the store manager reserved a truck and we took those trees to the local school and planted them.

“By the way, the local TV station reporter also helped. A couple of months later, I opened an envelope to find $5,000 from the scholarship committee.”

Darnell ended up finding many such opportunities for college and graduated from Embry Riddle completely debt free. You never know what can happen when you set your mind to achieving a goal. And, who knows. You might just be able to fund your entire college education.

So now that you’ve laid the groundwork for scholarship success, where can you find the money? And, what are the steps that will support you to this prosperity? Here is a 12-point plan for students and parents to follow:

  1. Start searching for scholarships as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the spring of yourScholarships senior year or you will miss half of the deadlines. There are many scholarships available to students in grades K-11, not just senior year. And, continue searching for scholarships even after you are enrolled in college.
  2. Use a free scholarship service, such as or Their data base is updated daily. Before you create an account, create a separate email address, either through Gmail or Hotmail, which will only be used for scholarship applications, as you will be inundated with opportunities coming your way.
  3. Answer all of the optional questions on a scholarship matching web site for about twice as many matches.
  4. Look for local scholarship through your high school website, bulletin boards in the Guidance office, or the library. Also, check out alumni clubs, community groups, and religious organizations. While these scholarships usually have smaller prizes, they are often the easiest to win and add up quickly.
  5. Sign up for Scholly, a free app that lets you search for scholarships using eight parameters, state, race, GPA, major, need or merit based, gender, grade level, and miscellaneous.
  6. Apply for every scholarship for which you are eligible. You can’t win if you don’t apply. It gets easier after the first few applications. And essays can be reused with a bit of editing and tailoring to each application.
  7. DEADLINES ARE IMPORTANT. Use a checklist or a calendar to keep track of deadlines.
  8. Tailor your application to the sponsor’s goal. Read and follow the instructions carefully. Ask someone, family or friend, to proofread your application and essay before submission.
  9. Personalize your essay and be passionate. Write about something that interests you. Make your application stand out from the crowd. Talk about your impact on others. Give examples and be specific.
  10. Google your name to insure that you have a professional online presence. Review your social media accounts and remove inappropriate and immature material.
  11. Avoid scholarship scams. Anyone promising to guarantee you a scholarship for a fee is pulling a fast one. Legitimate scholarship databases are free. You shouldn’t have to pay more than a postage stamp since all legitimate scholarships do not require a fee.
  12. Make a photocopy of your application before mailing. Send your application by certified mail, return receipt requested or with a delivery confirmation.

If you follow these steps, I can guarantee that you will win more scholarship money than you lose. Don’t be afraid to reflect on your life and be transparent about it on paper. Your story is uniquely your own, and that’s what makes you special. Finally, the best piece of advice I can give you is to never say you can’t until you try. You are in control of your future and no one else but you can ensure you achieve your dreams. Best of luck!

Need support in finding those scholarships. I can help. I offer an extensive scholarship service. Contact me at 
or call 240-285-1920.