Scholarships 101

The Real-World Guide to Getting Cash for College

 Scholarships 101

Author: Kimberly Ann Stezala
Pub Date: July 2008
Print Edition: $17.95
Print ISBN: 9780814409817
Page Count: 256
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814412916

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Meet Your New Neighbor

"Are you the Scholarship Lady?” the young woman asked me as I pushed my shopping cart into the checkout lane. “Yes,” I replied, preparing myself for the barrage of questions that usually followed. Similar interactions have happened at libraries, grocery stores, and family restaurants. When it comes to free advice, especially about paying for college, people aren’t shy about asking questions. Moms approach me as they search their purses for a scrap of paper to jot down tips or a website address. High school seniors give me a nod in the hallway and stop to say hi. Relatives and old friends, who now have kids in high school, come over for a cup of coffee and stay for financial aid advice.

The Scholarship Lady

Why do they approach me—a person who has never won a scholarship? Because they trust me, they know I’ve helped other families, and they know I care.

I wish someone had given me scholarship advice during my senior year of high school in 1987. Back then, I applied for one scholarship from a women’s club and didn’t win. No one in my family knew how to help me, and the only books available were two-pound directories that listed thousands of scholarships in microscopic type. I went into information overload and never filled out another scholarship application. What I did learn over the years, as a result of my career, was how to break down the information to help other students succeed.

If you are motivated to go to college and have somewhat decent grades (a 2.5 grade point average or better), you can make it to college with some money to pay the bill. I can show you how.

My goal is to help you win scholarships. Why should you listen to me? Because I have devoted my career to helping families achieve their educational dreams. I have worked with scholarship programs, universities, libraries, schools, and community organizations to help students make it to college. I was also the manager of an online scholarship database in Wisconsin, where we researched, analyzed, and promoted more than $3 million in available scholarships. Throughout this process, I had the privilege to meet the people who had the money and, more important, the people who needed the money—like you. I saw the best- and worst-case scenarios from the donors’ and students’ perspectives. I also learned how to write successful proposals to gain funding for our programs. Learning how to write successful proposals, or in your case, scholarship applications, is definitely doable and I will show you how.

You may have seen books written by outstanding college students who tout strategies for winning scholarship money. As the director of a college-preparation program in Wisconsin, my staff and I were aware of these books but rarely used them when advising students. First, they seemed too long. Who wants to read 300 or more pages to get the information that he or she needs? I don’t, nor do students or parents who are pressed for time. Another drawback was the lack of attention these books gave to parents and other family members.

Our students were oftentimes the first in their families to go to college and most weren’t headed for Harvard. Our students had decent grades and planned to attend college, but their families needed advice on how to prepare for it or how to pay for it.

This convinced me that people needed street-smart advice on how average families and their high school students could find money for college. I also knew that many qualified students skipped applying for scholarships because they lacked confidence, knowledge, or support.

Maybe no one in your family has gone to college. Maybe you’re not wealthy enough to pay cash for college and not broke enough to qualify for income-based grants. Maybe you have moderate financial resources but not enough to cover the cost of expected tuition, books, housing, transportation, and everything else you need to go to college. Most likely, you will qualify for student loans but are petrified about being in debt after earning your degree. You are, as we say in the financial aid business, “stuck in the middle.” Scholarships 101 is for you.

I promise to share all of my neighborly advice and tell you the real-world version of getting scholarships in a simple “101” style. Think of it as a kitchen-table classroom where the whole family is enrolled.

What Does 101 Mean?

When you begin college, your first classes are likely to be “100 level” courses, or introductory courses, for a subject. Likewise, Scholarships 101 is primarily for high school students who are college-bound and seeking scholarships for the first time. Parents, friends, neighbors, teachers, advisors, and counselors are welcome, too!

Recipe for Success

What makes a recipe great is fine ingredients and proper preparation. Your recipe for scholarship success includes four key ideas that I will refer to throughout the book: Dream, Plan, Act, and Excel. What does this cryptic recipe mean? Let’s talk about it.


What are your dreams for the future? For you to be successful, you need to dream big so that the little monotonous tasks have a purpose. How will you make it to medical school? How in the world are you going to pay $20,000 tuition every year? When that stack of scholarship applications begins to intimidate you, how will you overcome your fear? Do you have enough stamps to mail your applications?

If you don’t have a dream, it is difficult to succeed, because you focus on the lowest common denominator and can be easily discouraged. You focus on passing a class instead of getting an A. You focus on graduating from high school instead of going to college. You focus on getting a job instead of finding a career. Get the picture? I will talk about “dreaming big” throughout the book. Your dream will help motivate you throughout the scholarship search and application process.


Do you have a plan? I am aware that many students say they want to go to college, but for a small percentage their actions don’t follow their dreams. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2002 about 80 percent of tenth graders expected to obtain a bachelor’s degree or higher, but for seniors in 2005, only 69 percent actually enrolled in college in the fall after graduation. Why? Maybe they weren’t prepared emotionally, academically, or financially. Maybe they weren’t wealthy. According to the 2006 report “Promise Abandoned” by The Education Trust, low-achieving, high-income students go to college at the same rate as high-achieving, low-income students. This doesn’t seem fair, but the point is that the more money you have, the more choices you have.

This book will help you create a plan of how to win scholarship money to help pay for the cost of college. I’m assuming you do not have a scholarship plan yet and that is why you are reading this book. The plan is directly tied to your dream. See where I’m going here?


What will you need to succeed? You will need to act on your dream and your plan. If it is your senior year of high school, you might be thinking, “What can I do now? Is it too late?” No matter what stage you are at, you can always take action. Some people make the mistake of doing more without doing better. For example, if you sign up for the forensics team, Earth club, church choir, and the prom committee all in the same semester, you are definitely doing more. Your actions are altruistic, but my advice is to join more activities only if you can fully participate and prove your positive impact.

In essence, I’m simply asking you to act on your intentions and your word. If you promise your teacher that you will share your résumé so she can write a good, personalized letter of recommendation for you, will you do it? I hope so. Proactive students are likely to find more scholarships. In Scholarships 101, you won’t sit around waiting for someone to hand you a list of scholarships; you will make your own list—you will act on the need to personalize your scholarship approach. By the way, reading this book is very proactive!


The old saying “spinning your wheels” means you’re stepping on the gas but not moving. In the world of scholarships, some advisors will tell you to apply for as many scholarships as you can. My advice is to apply for as many scholarships as you can if you can excel at what you do and can submit high-quality, compelling applications. If you crank out a bunch of mediocre applications, then you’re doing more work but it is not necessarily your best work. You can’t afford to be mediocre when applying for scholarships, because the competition is at an all-time high due to the increasing number of college applicants who need financial aid. But don’t worry, with this book, you will learn how to excel beyond the competition.

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