Financially prepping for and successfully navigating through college can be overwhelming and stressful, especially when you consider the high cost of a college education today. Giving yourself a long runway and creating a financial strategy are key from launch prep to graduation.

During my cool conversation with Jessica Johnson, Founder of The Scholarship Academy, she shares lots of great info to help you get started today. As a college student, she was awarded $200,000 in scholarships, which was the inspiration for the work she does for students today via her thriving organization. Curious about how she did it and what she’s learned that can help you? Listen to this entire episode!

Below are a few key points she shared during our conversation:

  • It’s never too early to put together a competitive application.
  • Give yourself enough runway to secure the finances needed for college.
  • Consider this: What would make a scholarship donor say “Yes, “I’ll give you $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 of my money”?
  • Don’t simply cast a wide net when searching for scholarships.
  • When applying and writing your scholarship essays, start with what makes you stand out.
  • Ask yourself and be prepared to demonstrate in your application, ‘Am I committed to serving others?’
  • Include all scholarship awards received on your resume for possible, future scholarship donors to see, which gets attention and can increase your chances of receiving their scholarship.
  • Consider your gifts, talents and resources when preparing your applications and essays.
  • Create a scholarship profile (helps with branding and bragging), which helps you separate yourself from other applicants.
  • 70% of students in GA who dropped out of college did so over not having as little as $1,500 to pay for tuition; when applying for scholarships, small amounts add up and are just as critical as large amounts.
  • Consider: What about you is memorable after a scholarship reviewer has viewed 100+ applications for the scholarship you’re applying for?
  • Articulate your impact; use relevant action words and numbers to paint a picture of your impact and quantify how you’ve added value before entering college and throughout your college journey.
  • Consider who you are going to be, and what’s the return on investment in the future for the donor as it relates to you and how you’ll make a contribution (donors want to know that their money is going to grow).
  • Your application may be the only thing considered during the review process; be sure your language include the focus of the organization and the scholarship.
  • Spend time researching the donor and scholarship so you can articulate and align your message.
  • Don’t conclude that you don’t have time to apply for scholarships; you have more time than you think. Many students, for example, invest lots of time each day/week on social media; make a priority shift now so you’re not worried about finances throughout your college journey.

Two BIG Myths:

  • Go in blind and apply for everything, apply to all scholarships.
  • Spend most of your application and essay summarizing your sob story and life difficulties in an effort to pull on the heart strings of the reviewers when writing your application essay.

What Reviewers Are Looking For:

  • Consider the question: “Why would a scholarship reviewer remember me?”
  • Did I take the lead in something? In my responses include: I started…, I created…, I led…, I implemented…, etc.
  • Am I engaging in some form of community service, as the objective is to improve my community, make an impact, add value.
  • Scholarship review committees will spend 5-7 minutes on my application; I don’t want to include information that’s all over the place. Share my participation in academics, activities, organizations, projects, etc. that connect the dots and tell my story.
  • Am I associated with a professional organization in my industry or major of choice? Reviewers want to see in my submission that I’m actively involved and taking advantage of many opportunities to expand my knowledge and experience, and advance my own career development.
  • They also want to see evidence of my academic rigor; for example, did I spend my summers hanging out or did I spend them engaged in activities associated with my interests and how I want to contribute?

Essay Writing Tips:

  • Avoid a brain dump, a resume dump; stay on topic. Pick 2-3 areas to focus on in your essay that are original, not simply copied from your resume
  • Do your research about the donor and the scholarship and make a few references.
  • Don’t use an essay template; this is offensive to reviewers, as it shows that you’re not really serious about the process and wasting their time.
  • Answer all of the questions asked, which means taking the time to thoroughly review the scholarship requirements.
  • Avoid fluff essays filled with lots of content and little substance, and again, don’t spend lots of time sharing your sob story and difficulties, reviewers primarily want to hear about your future goals and how you plan to add value and make an impact.

Three BIG Essay Mistakes:

  • Grammatical errors; take the time to review and proofread your application and essay; have someone you respect and know well read your essay and provide some feedback.
  • Applying for scholarships and writing essays that are not even aligned with that scholarship’s focus or requirements.
  • Not including how much, how many, what’s your actual goal, etc. – be specific and quantify to help the reviewer understand how you made an impact in your community.

More key points: 

  • Use your time during college to search for “Good Fit” scholarships.
  • Pick up a copy of Jessica’s The Scholarship Workbook.
  • A lot of the scholarship search engines are marketing companies; they capture your information and sell it. Be mindful and alert, start local when searching for scholarships.
  • Take a few moments to review The Scholarship Academy website – their mission is to help create a healthy financial aid culture.
  • Interested in the forthcoming College Funding Toolkit (for more information, visit the website and let them know that you’re interested in this newly developed resource), visit the website and inquire about how to get it.
  • After you receive a scholarship, show appreciation and maintain that relationship – send a thank you note, stay in touch with the donor. Remember: an appreciative attitude with actions to demonstrate your appreciation goes a long way.
  • The process of securing money to fund your education is ongoing every year while in college.
  • Apply for the FAFSA every year; it’s available October 1st.
  • Know and understand any requirements for accepting a scholarship award.
  • Stay organized, alert, and create a scholarship spreadsheet or file to make sure you’re meeting deadlines, scheduling, etc.
  • Prepare for every semester ahead of time so you’re aware of what you need, what to apply for, what you’ve received, etc.
  • If you didn’t’ get it right as a high school student, you have a chance to get it right in college, be intentional and stay on top of your financial strategy so you can successfully complete your college degree without a lot of debt.
  • Consider applying for 15-20 “Good Fit” scholarships; those that are a real good fit for you. 
  • Be PERSISTENT. 
  • Don’t wait until it’s too late, sit down with your family and create a financial strategy. NOW is the time to get serious about paying for college.
  • In September, October and November are really heavy for national scholarships ; February, March and April are typically heavy for local scholarships.

Everyday is an opportunity to get it right! – Jessica Johnson


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