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Savvy Financial Latina: How to win the scholarship game

Savvy Financial Latina
by Savvy Financial Latina, Dimespring 30 (@savvyfinlatina)

My parents always encouraged/expected me to do well in school, and I realized the only way I was going to be able to get a good-paying job was to study. The only obstacle standing in my way was money. At a very young age, I realized my parents could not afford to pay for my college tuition and expenses, so I decided to start playing the scholarship game.

I remember worrying about money right up until the end of high school. I had been accepted to so many schools, but every time I added up the numbers, I couldn’t figure how I would pay for it all.

READ: Where you attend college affects how much debt you have

It was scary. I would stay up late at night thinking about it. I felt no true success when I received my college acceptance letters, unlike my school peers. While my classmates were celebrating their acceptance, I was still waiting for scholarship and financial aid offers to be mailed in.

Senior year of high school, I spent all my time studying, working part-time, turning in college applications and applying for scholarships. I applied to every single scholarship I could find. I spent countless of hours on the Internet, with my guidance counselor and in the library searching for any type of scholarship.

The hard work finally paid off. Fast forward four years, one bachelor’s and two master’s degrees later, I ended up receiving nearly $100,000 in scholarships. I added up all the stipend money I received, plus the tuition costs. If you go by how much my degrees are worth, I actually ended up receiving more than $100,000 in scholarships. I fast-tracked and was able to receive my education in four years, which decreased the amount of money I had to pay.

READ: Bad college money habits? Blame mom and dad

How did I become an expert at winning scholarships?

  • Get good grades. The first items on your scholarship application are your education, GPA, and class rank. I graduated as valedictorian, International Baccalaureate Scholar and AP Distinguished Scholar, which gave me an edge against other applicants.
  • Volunteer. I accumulated more than 1,000 hours of volunteer hours simply because I enjoyed helping my community. One summer I volunteered as a teacher’s kindergarten aide, helped clean parks, built homes for Habitat For Humanity, etc. Community service really differentiates your application.
  • Develop great essays. Your essays develop an idea of your personality for someone who has never met you. They are extremely important in differentiating you from everybody else. By the time I graduated with my master’s degree, I had developed an art for writing scholarship winning essays.
  • Never stop applying for scholarships. Many students stop applying for scholarships after high school, but there are so many more scholarships you can get during college and graduate school. Ask around, research and spend some time filling out those applications. You won’t regret it. I received thousands of dollars worth of scholarships post high school.

Student debt is nearing $1 trillion dollars. Don’t graduate with the average $25,000 in student loans. Especially when you can be proactive and apply for scholarships.

Savvy Financial Latina is a 20-something woman learning to manage life, career and money in Dallas, Tex. She has a Bachelor’s in Global Business, a Master’s in Supply Chain Management, and an MBA, all without any debt. She now works for a Global 500 company as a sourcing analyst. Savvy Financial Latina is a member of the Dimespring 30, a community of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.