After a summer of touring colleges in the United States and hearing the dastardly sums of money they charged for the privilege of entering their hallowed halls, my parents made a decree. I had to apply to every eligible scholarship. If I deemed free money not worth my time and my parents found out, then they would subtract that sum from the amount they were willing to stake in my education.
I was seventeen. Naturally, I thought I knew better than my parents and doubted they’d spend valuable free time hunting down scholarships available for a white girl with average athletic skills and slightly-above average artistic ability who wasn’t interested in a wildly niche field like food science.
Whilst playing around on Facebook (yeah, I had already upgraded from MySpace in 2006) I heard a knock on my bedroom door.
“Yeah, come in.” I yelled over the Nada Surf song (or perhaps Gnarls Barkley) blaring through my computer.
“Did you apply for this?” Mom asked.
“I don’t know, I can’t see it,” I retorted, extremely pleased with the logic of my defense.
“It’s a Presidential Scholarship at Wake Forest that’s awarded to students interested in theater,” she said. “It’s worth about $15,000.”
My stomach dropped. That meant $15,000 subtracted from what my parents were willing to pay. That could mean little to no money!
“Um, I’m not sure,” I mumbled, fully aware I had passed it over thinking 1) I’d never be competitive and 2) my parents wouldn’t find it anyway.
“Well, the deadline is in two days, so you better get to it,” she said and dropped the application on my desk.
In the next 48 hours I wrote three essays, memorized and filmed two monologues which I cut to DVD with the help of my technically savvy college counselor and pulled my first all-nighter trying to get the whole package together.
To this day, I can’t see a pack of Folgers instant coffee without thinking of that night.
In the end I actually got into the final rounds for the Presidential Scholarship in theater, but couldn’t seal the deal. You may remember this led me to picking the school that offered me a hefty academic scholarship so I could avoid the millennial curse and graduate college debt free.
The point of this slightly long parable?
You can graduate college in the black. One way to achieve this debt-free life is by simply taking the hours-and-hours of time researching and applying to every possible scholarship available to you.* Oh, and it helps if you select an affordable institution and can snag a few university-sponsored scholarships.
Perhaps you aren’t a stellar athlete, can’t identify a single note of music and perform, well, adequately in the academic department.
You need not fear! There is hope for you to graduate college debt free.
If you’ve seen those fear-mongering HR Block commercials claiming Americans lose a billion dollars each year in taxes, then you might like to know in the 90s, scholarships search services claimed billions were lost each year in unclaimed scholarships.
It may not be billions, it’s likely closer to hundreds-of-thousands, but there is free money that goes unclaimed each year. This often happens because certain scholarship offers are so specific only a small group can apply. For example, there really are scholarships out there for people interested in a variety of different food sciences like the National Candy Technologists ($2,500) or hop over to Agribusiness with the National Potato Council Scholarship ($10,000).
My sister actually won a $1,000 from the Ayn Rand essay contest for The Fountain Head.
A few of my favorite odd-ball (primarily under-grad) scholarships include:
- Stuck at Prom: Couple with the best duct tape prom get-up [$5,000 each]
- Duck Calling: This was pre-Duck Dynasty [1st place $2,000]
- L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers & Illustrators of the Future: Contest for Sci-Fi writers and you don’t even have to convert to Scientology [up to $5,000]
- American Fire Sprinkler Association: Read the “Fire Sprinkler Essay” then answer 10 questions. Each correct answer gets an additional entry to win one of ten scholarships [$2,000]
- Tall Club International: Women 5’10” and taller or Men 6’2” and taller can apply [$1,000]
- Letterman Telecommunications Scholarship: When I worked at Late Show, every Ball State grad had to tell me about Letterman sponsoring a scholarship. But hey, if you’re in communications at Ball State you could when $10,000!
- Common Knowledge Scholarship Foundation: Take a quiz. If you have the highest score at the end of each competition you win. This one is open to high school, college and graduate students. Even parents are eligible to compete for certain rounds. [$250 – $2,500]
Find more at Fastweb.com, CollegeXpress, FinAid or you know — Google. You can also use sites like ScholarshipExperts which helps aggregate scholarships specific to your profile and even works for grad students.
If you’re truly dedicated to giving yourself a solid financial footing after college graduate then be sure to also canvas local organizations, churches and even your employer. And don’t forget to apply for every scholarship your university offers and continue the hunting during your years in school. Some scholarships aren’t universities aren’t even offered until your a year or two into your education.
Did you get a whacky scholarships to go to help pay for school?
* Community college, in-State schools, trade and technical schools are also all great options to help subsidize the cost of higher education.