Last week, I discussed the KEES scholarship, and how I used it to finance my education without taking any loans. Today I’ll talk about how I got scholarships from the universities themselves. Before I start, I want to state that I don’t think everyone should always choose the school offering the biggest scholarship. As with any financial commitment, you need to take other factors into consideration– such as location, student facilities, atmosphere, academic programs, class size, etc. I took all those factors into account when choosing a school.
My parent’s income was too high to for me to qualify for government aid packages. In fact, when it was younger sister turn to start college, they didn’t even bother to fill out the FAFSA forms. A lot of in-state public schools will offer merit scholarships, and I knew that those would be my best shot at a debt-free education. Like with any large endeavor, I broke the process down in several smaller steps (with some guidance from my awesome high school teachers).
First, I looked up what types of scholarships were available at each of the schools I planned on applying to, and whether an application was required. Then, I took note of which scholarship applications were due at the same time as the admissions applications, and which scholarship applications were due after being accepted. Generally, scholarships will require a minimum GPA and/or ACT/SAT score. So, I would set a reasonable ACT/SAT score to shoot for. For the school I ended up attending, the University of Louisville, any in-state student with a 30 or higher ACT score automatically receive a full tuition scholarship with a $3000/year stipend, and that was the scholarship I received upon getting accepted. Then, I found another scholarship that provided tuition AND a $6200/year stipend, which completely covered my room and board with some money left over, for ten students each year. To qualify, I needed to score one more point higher to reach the minimum ACT score requirement, and in addition, I would have to write an essay about a research proposal. So, I went for it, and long story short, I got the scholarship.
What surprised me was that a lot of my highly intelligent friends in high school and college didn’t take the extra time to study for the standardized tests to raise their scores by one or two points or take the time to apply for better scholarships. If you do a little math, the extra time translates to a lot of money. I don’t remember how much time I spent studying to take the ACT a second time, or how my time I spent writing my essay. Let’s estimate that I spent six hours each week for six weeks studying, and that the actual exam was four hours long, so I spent a total of forty hours on the test. And for the essay, let’s estimate that between researching a topic, and writing the essay, I spent five hours. So, in 45 hours, I made $12,800 (I took the difference between the four year total of the two scholarships) or $284.44 per hour! Now, I know that illustration a little simplistic, since I spent hours writing scholarship essays for other schools I applied to but ended up not attending. Still even totalling those hours or essay writing, I would be making a lot more money per hour than any job a high school student or college student would work. (My dad taught me that it was financially dumb to work a minimum wage job in high school to save up money for college when you could use that time to earn a scholarship). So, I ended up with a full tuition scholarship plus a $8700 stipend ($6200 with the university scholarship plus my $2500 KEES scholarship) each year.
I received varying amounts of scholarship money from the other schools that I applied to. Those other schools were good options, and I think I would be happy at any of those schools, but now that I am out of school, I am glad that I graduated without debt, and with enough savings to start an emergency fund.