Growing up in Waverly, Nebraska as the only child of a single mother, McKenna Rogers knew she wanted to go to college but was hesitant about it. No one in her family had ever gone so she had no idea what it would be like. But everyone around her encouraged her to go – her mom, grandparents, and teachers. However, her mom made it clear…”It will take a great deal of hard work and perseverance.”

Taking that encouragement and advice to heart, McKenna worked hard in high school and focused on earning as many scholarships as she could. We reached out to McKenna, now a sophomore at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, to find out how she ended up earning over $65,000 in scholarships.

When you got to high school, what steps did you take to prepare for college?
Right when I entered high school, I joined clubs and organizations I knew would look good on college and scholarship applications. I became active in Student Council, National Honor Society, German Club, and sports. During my junior and senior years of high school, my school counselor helped guide me in what I should be doing to prepare for college.

When did you start researching and applying for scholarships?

I started researching scholarships my junior year of high school using websites recommended by my school counselor. The site I used most was EducationQuest’s ScholarshipQuest program. It allowed me to put in all my information and then it gave me a list of scholarships I could apply for. I started applying the end of my junior year and carried on until I graduated. 

How many scholarships did you apply for?

I applied for 30 to 40 scholarships. Some were very extensive in their application process, so they took a much greater time commitment than others.

How did you fit applying for scholarships into your schedule?

Of the scholarships I could apply for, I picked those I thought were most important and started applying. I worked on them before school as it was the only time I had during the week because of sports and clubs. I also met with a few teachers before school so they could edit my essays.

How many scholarships did you earn and what was their value?

I received the UNO Chancellor’s Scholarship, UNO Honors Learning Community Scholarship, Susan T. Buffett College Opportunity Scholarship, Waverly German Club Scholarship, Waverly Grange #369 Scholarship, and the Waverly Student Council Scholarship.

My Susan Buffett Scholarship pays $9,200 every year and is renewable for up to five years as long as I meet its requirements. My Chancellor’s Scholarship pays $3,000 every year and is renewable for four years. The three scholarships from my high school added up to just under $1,000.

Overall, I earned between $65,000 and $70,000 for my four or five years at college. 

On what criteria were the scholarships based?

Most of the scholarships I applied for had academic requirements, such as a certain GPA. Some, like my Susan Buffett Scholarship, were based on financial need. And some required leadership skills or volunteer experience.

What scholarship advice do you have for high school students?

Start applying for scholarships early because your last two years of high school will go by faster than you think. Also, utilize your resources — get help from your school counselors, take advantage of EducationQuest, and have a few people edit your scholarship essays. Finally, take time out of your week to specifically work on scholarships. If you treat it like it homework, you are more likely to apply for more scholarships. 

What are you studying at UNO and what are your career aspirations?

I’m majoring in biology and want to work in the medical field. I’m still deciding on a specific career but am interested in going to Occupational Therapy school after graduating from college.