Kristin's senior photoI always knew I would go to college. Neither of my parents had the opportunity, so from an early age, they instilled the expectation that my siblings and I would go. I also felt confident of my path: teaching. I remember playing “school” with my younger sister, and taking turns being the student. When I reached middle and high school, my interests surrounded history, geography, and government. I had a goal: become a high school social sciences teacher.

Wondered How to Pay for College

My greatest concern was paying for it. I wanted to go to Doane College (now, University) because I learned they had a phenomenal teacher prep program, but the total cost (tuition, room & board, etc.) was around $20,000 a year. So, I made a plan to make applying for scholarships my second part-time job (after shelving books at the local library).

Got Organized

I started by searching for national scholarships the summer before my high school senior year, and made a few online profiles. (It has gotten so much easier to search for all this since 2002!) I quickly felt overwhelmed by the many applications, and realized I would need a system. The previous school year I had taken a computer course where I learned how to use an Excel spreadsheet. So, I used that tool to put my plan into place. I’d track each scholarship I was interested in applying for. I prioritized and organized my spreadsheet by application due date. It looked something similar to this:

Spreadsheet Header

Shifted Gears

I’d spend a few hours a couple weekends each month applying for scholarships. I quickly realized I just wasn’t getting the national scholarships (too many other students to compete against, I suppose), and by November of senior year, I shifted my focus to the local scholarships that my high school counseling office promoted.

Developed a System

After completing a few scholarships, it actually became fairly easy to apply. Most scholarship applications asked similar questions, so once I had perfected a few short one-paragraph essays, I’d simply make slight tweaks and knock out a handful of applications in the course of just a couple hours. I continued this through the spring, in anticipation of hearing replies in April and May. 

Applied for College-Based Scholarships

I also spent significant time completing applications for my college. These were the largest dollar scholarships (one was $10,000 per year!), and I made sure to triple-check the directions and my response to them. After the most nerve-wracking interview of my LIFE (up to that point) with the director of admissions, I received notification that I got the $10,000 scholarship!!

And the winner is…

Finally, at my high school’s honors convocation a couple weeks before graduation, a school staff member read each graduating senior’s name and the list of the college scholarships they earned, while that student made their way to the stage. I still hadn’t heard from a number of local scholarship applications I had submitted, and many of them would be announced that evening. When it was my turn, I started the short walk to the stage to receive a congratulatory certificate. Imagine my surprise when they continued listing scholarship, after scholarship, after scholarship. I was SHOCKED to learn how many I had earned. Most were small $250 or $500 awards, but those small ones added up to several thousand dollars.

Made Applying for Scholarships a Part-time Job

I cannot encourage enough high school seniors to make applying for scholarships a part-time job. Just imagine if you spent 10 hours applying for scholarships and earn $1,000 in scholarships. That means you worked a job that paid $100 per hour! I can’t think of any other job that a high schooler can do to earn that kind of cash! I learned that putting in the time (and doing good work) usually pays off – literally (ha)! 

Still Needed Student Loans

I still took out student loans when I attended college in the fall, but the amount was much smaller than I thought I might need. I spent my first three years out of college living my goal of teaching high school social sciences. Then my career path went a different direction, but I was partially able to make the switch because I didn’t have a heavy student loan debt burden. A college degree (and a good paying job that came because I had a degree) and lack of significant student loan debt has contributed to my family living in comfort. Scholarships made a huge contribution to my current success!