If you want to offset the cost of college, there’s no better way to do it than by getting scholarships.
And it doesn’t matter where you come from or even if you weren’t a “good” student. ANYONE can get scholarships as long as they have the right systems.
I know — because I built a system that helped me earn six figures in scholarships to go to Stanford.
That’s why I want to share the exact system I used to earn six figures in scholarships for college today.
How to get scholarships in 3 steps
Step 1: Adopt an application mindset
Step 2: Find the scholarships that will earn thousands
Step 3: Apply to ALL the scholarships
Step 1: Adopt a scholarship application mindset
One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of people just hope they get “a scholarship” for college.
Instead of hoping you get one scholarship, you need to reframe it to “I hope I get a LOT of scholarships.”
This is a mindset of abundance — and it’s incredibly important when you start applying for different scholarships.
Which means two things:
- Instead of hoping you get a huge scholarship or full ride, you need to apply to as many as possible. After all, $500 here and $1,000 there can really add up.
- Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get one you apply for. Scholarships are a numbers game, and many have only a handful of applicants.
Use every resource at your disposal — apply to any and all relevant scholarships you can find. Once you cast a wide net, you increase your chances of getting more money for school IMMENSELY.
Step 2: Find the scholarships that will earn thousands
If you’re a high school student, you have a lot of scholarship resources available to you. They can be broken up into five areas:
- High school career centers
- Library and bookstore
- Scholarship search sites
- Ethnic organizations
- Friends and family
With these resources, you’ll be able to earn thousands of dollars in scholarship money. Here’s how:
High school career centers
First, go to your high school career center. If your high school doesn’t have a career center, your school’s counselor can help you with this too.
Most high school career centers keep an updated list of scholarships sorted by date. Go through this list and make note of every single scholarship that applies to you. You should literally be writing down the information for each one — you’ll need it when you actually start the application process.
Do this in a Google or Excel spreadsheet. When recording, I suggest you write down the scholarship name, the amount it’s worth, a due date, and whether or not you’ve applied yet.
When you put it together, here’s what it might look like:
|Scholarship name||What it’s worth||Due date||Applied|
Of course, you can be as detailed as you want with your spreadsheet and include things like GPA requirements and whether or not you need an essay.
Once you’ve exhausted your school’s list of scholarships, call up other high schools and ask them if you can go in and talk to them about what scholarships might apply to you.
That’s right. I want you to call up other high schools in your city to see what scholarships they have. They’ll actually LOVE this because no high schooler ever goes out of their way to get scholarships.
If you show just a little bit of initiative in your educational future, they’ll be more than happy to help you out. Do the exact same thing you did with your school’s scholarship resources and record all the ones relevant to you.
When I was in high school, I ended up applying for 60 scholarships from my high school’s career center — and earned thousands for college in the process.
Library and bookstores
Once you’re finished exhausting all of the scholarships from your high school, head to a bookstore or library and pick up the latest copy of an annual scholarship book.
These books are comprehensive catalogs of grants and scholarships you can earn as a high school student. They’re FANTASTIC resources if you’re looking to find cash for college.
Here’s a list of a few good scholarship books to look for:
- The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2017 by Gen Tanabe and Kelly Tanabe ($19.71)
- Scholarship Handbook 2017 by The College Board ($22.51)
- Scholarships, Grants & Prizes 2017 by Peterson’s ($24.09)
I’ve included the Amazon links here so you can check them out — but I highly suggest purchasing these at your local bookstore so you can get started ASAP!
Once you get the book, do what you did with your high school’s scholarship resources and make note of all the scholarships you’d like to apply for.
Scholarship search sites
Once you’ve looked at all the scholarships you can through the aforementioned resources, you can turn to different search engines and websites that can help you find scholarships.
Many of them even include features that allow you to search for specific criteria like:
- School-specific scholarships
- Amount of money earned
- GPA requirements
- Essay requirements
You can set up email alerts so that you are automatically notified when the sites find scholarships that fit your specific needs too.
Here are a few suggestions for great sites to help you look for scholarships:
Ethnic organizations of all stripes tend to offer scholarships. These can help you earn hundreds — if not thousands — in scholarship money.
Many of these are ethnicity-based, meaning that you’ll have to be a certain race or background in order to qualify for the scholarship.
A few suggestions:
Of course, simply fitting the racial criteria for ethnicity-based scholarships isn’t enough. You’re going to have to knock the application out of the park (more on that later).
Friends and family
Talk to your friends, parents, and parents’ friends to see if they know of any scholarships.
There are a lot of companies that offer college scholarships — companies that the people you know work at. So ask around! Some of the best scholarships come from some of the most unexpected places.
When I was applying for scholarships, my sister was working at Kaiser — which offered a college scholarship to relatives of Kaiser employees.
My mom is a teacher and she knew about a scholarship offered through the California Teachers Union.
These are scholarships barely anyone applies to because many high schoolers simply don’t know to ask about them. So when you DO find out about one, you automatically have an advantage over everyone else.
If you feel odd about it, know that every person wants to help out a high schooler. They won’t think it’s “weird.” In fact, they’ll find it admirable.
Which brings us to my favorite part…
Step 3: Apply to ALL the scholarships
Okay, so now you have your (hopefully) large list of possible scholarships to apply to. It’s time to apply to ALL of them.
This might seem like an incredibly daunting task. After all, these applications generally require you to do two things:
- Send a letter of recommendation
- Write an essay (or a few short ones)
However, there’s an easier way to go about the process that doesn’t involve writing 60+ unique essays.
Don’t get me wrong: Each application is going to take time and a bit of nuance in order to create a compelling case for you that’ll have the reader clamoring to give you the scholarship money.
But you can make the process a lot more effective and simple if you just look at the letters of recommendations and essays.
Get letters of recommendations
Most high school students are afraid to ask for letters of recommendations. It’s a little bit awkward to ask a teacher or other trusted adult to write a glowing recommendation for you.
HOWEVER, if you were a good student and established a good relationship with your teachers, they’ll be more than happy to help you out with your letter of recommendation. Most students never do this so they’d be happy to help.
You’re going to want to approach it the same way I approach asking for a testimonial: politely and with the majority of the work done already.
When you reach out to your teacher for a letter of recommendation, you’ll want to give them several things:
- A broad view of what you want them to highlight
- 2-3 key points they should touch on (maybe it’s something specific to the scholarship?)
- Your resume so they have a reference to your accomplishments
If you provide them practically everything they need, they’ll be more than happy to give you an awesome letter of recommendation. In fact, many teachers will just ask you to write a draft that they can edit and sign.
Write a college application essay that stands out
When it comes to writing an amazing scholarship essay, I’ve developed a highly complex intricate process of algorithms and systems that you need to follow EXACTLY if you want your writing to soar.
The steps are:
- Figure out what most students will write about
- Write something else
…and that’s it.
Why does this work? Most scholarship essays bore judges to tears.
Put yourself in the shoes of the person who will be reading your application — they’re going to be reading hundreds, maybe even THOUSANDS of these a day. And the fact of the matter is 99.99999% of the applications they read will be almost exactly the same.
Oh, you got good grades? You were in a bunch of extracurriculars? That mission trip you took to Honduras junior year was “life-changing”?
Get in line. What’s particularly unique about any of those things? Not a whole lot.
And if you fall into the same formula as everyone else, I guarantee you your application won’t get a second glance.
However, if you subvert the expectations of the scholarship judge, you’ll grab and hold onto their attention — allowing you to properly make your case.
To do that, you need to follow the aforementioned two steps.
First: Figure out what other students will write about
You’re sitting down at your laptop, the scholarship essay prompt is in front of you, and you’re ready to dive in.
Before you write a single word…STOP!
Think about the other people applying for the exact same scholarship — what are THEY going to be writing about?
What’s the easy answer to the prompt…and how can you subvert that?
Back when I was applying, I had one essay prompt that asked, “If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?”
Classic prompt. So I started thinking.
Nelson Mandela? Meh…that would be the “logical” choice. And to be honest, dinner with Mandela wouldn’t be the most exciting thing for a 17-year-old kid.
Maybe President Clinton? That’d be cool for bragging rights…but what would we talk about?
Given this prompt, I could have just written some BS about Mandela or the President but I would have sounded like every other person applying for the scholarship. Plus, I didn’t really want to meet them.
It’s almost like the people applying forget that it’s a competition. Would a coach say to his players, “Okay guys, we’re playing against every team in our division next week, so we’re just going to do the same plays over and over”?
No. So why would you want to do that too?
So when it came to who I wanted to have dinner with, I decided to go with my gut and pick someone different: Chris Rock.
Which leads me to the next step…
Next: Write something unique instead
When you take a step back and consider the common answers to the prompt, you’ll be able to come up with an answer that will subvert the judge’s expectations and keep their attention.
In my case, while other students wrote about historical figures, I chose Chris Rock, the famous comedian.
My essay went on to argue that though he’s perceived simply as a comedian, he’s actually a highly astute social commentator. His jokes revealed the things we want to say but won’t articulate — because we’re afraid to.
I even deconstructed one of his jokes and went into an in-depth analysis of why it was an examination of the racial attitudes our society holds.
And it worked.
My approach was offbeat — yet professional. When looking for the unique angles, you shouldn’t make it offensive or inappropriate. Instead, aim to make it deep, personal, and a little bit against the grain.
To show you what I mean, here are a few common essay prompts — as well as the boring responses judges will typically see AND an example of a good answer.
What’s wrong with it? You could find this opinion in the “Letters to the Editor” section of any newspaper. It doesn’t matter if the answer is right — it plays everything safe and is BORING.
Better answer: “Salaries aren’t decided by fairness. They’re decided by supply and demand. LeBron James is a millionaire because millions of fans pay to see him perform. Besides, if the athletes weren’t getting the money, the owners would. Those are the only two options.”
What’s wrong with it? The reader makes no human connection to you. Why on earth would they want to read more?
Better answer: “My life changed forever when I spoke at my best friend’s funeral. Standing there under the storm clouds, I felt a personal duty to make sure no one sees suicide as their only way out.”
What’s wrong with it? This is such a cliche answer, the judge won’t help but roll their eyes. Reading an answer like this will have them mentally checking out before you can say, “Full-ride scholarship.”
Better answer: “Classes aren’t fixed groups of people. Most of us move in and out of different classes throughout our lives. In fact, many people who were in the middle class twenty years ago are in the upper class today.”
These answers practically grab you by the lapels and COMMAND attention. They stand out like a lighthouse in the ocean of boring applicants.
This is the difference between following the crowd and hoping for the best versus thinking strategically and winning the game.
Key things to remember to get any scholarship
Before you jump into the system above, there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re applying:
Check out my video on how you can crush your interview below:
What to do AFTER I get the scholarships?
Once you get your first scholarship, CONGRATS!!!
You’re now ahead of a vast majority of your peers when it comes to paying for your education — but it shouldn’t end there.
If you want to truly prepare yourself for college, I’ve created a video series where I break down the truths that no one tells you about it.
Check it out below.
When it comes to scholarships or even school in general, you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room — you just have to do the work.
If you’ve read all this, try doing just one step today. Not tomorrow, not after you finish that physics quiz, but TODAY.
Take someone out to lunch. Send an email to that professor you admire. Ask someone a question. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be today.
It’s easy to take the “safe” route. It’s much tougher to build your own confidence to do things differently — let alone at all.
But if you’re willing to take that first step, I want to help you.
Join my free email list to learn my secrets to earning more, learning, and finding a passion that’ll earn you money forever.
Share:Facebook Twitter Email
Do you know your actual earning potential?
Get started with the Earning Potential quiz. Get a custom report based on your unique strengths, and discover how to start making extra money — in as little as an hour.
Start The Quiz
Takes 3 min
Eight Steps Towards a Better Scholarship Essay
Writing a scholarship essay can be very difficult – especially if you want to do it well. Your essay will need to wow the reader, and speak directly to the goals of that organization, as well as the objectives of that award. If done properly, you will very rarely be able to submit the same application to multiple awards – it is not a one-size-fits-all; most essays will need to be tweaked or completely altered to show the reader that you are deserving of the award above and beyond any of the other participant who also applied.
Read on to find eight steps to help you write a better scholarship essay so that you can get the money you need to fund your international education.
Step 1: Read the Essay Prompt Thoroughly
Many schools and other organizations that give out scholarships will give you a "prompt" or a question which the essay is supposed to address. Read the question or prompt carefully and try to "read between the lines." For example, the prompt you are to answer might be, "Describe a book that made a lasting impression on you and your life and why?" Ask yourself, "Are they really interested in my literary preferences or is there something more to this question?" More than likely, they want to get a better idea of who you are—not only what types of books you like but also what motivates you and what sorts of stories or topics interest you. They may also be interested in getting a sense for how promising a student you are based on the type of book you choose and what you have to say about it.
Tip: Always keep in mind that any scholarship essay question, no matter the topic, should demonstrate your interests, your background, and most importantly, highlight the experiences you've had that fit with the goals and mission of the funding organization.
Instead of being given a prompt, you might be asked to write an essay on the topic of your choosing. Although challenging, this is also an opportunity to demonstrate your creativity. Finally, if anything about the directions aren't clear, don't be afraid to contact someone at the funding organization and ask for clarification.
Step 2: Make a List of Important Points and Keywords to Include
Looking for sample essays?
Check out our Sample Essay section where you can see scholarship essays, admissions essays, and more!
Regardless of the essay prompt, you will want to make sure to include the important and relevant information about your experiences and background that makes you an ideal candidate for the scholarship award. To complete this step, it can be helpful to first research the organization to which you're applying and try to find their mission statement on their website. Circle a few key words from the mission statement and make sure to include those buzzwords in your essay.
Scholarship committees are not only looking for good students, they are often looking for a person that fits their organizational goals. You should gather your other application materials such as transcripts and resumes so you can review your qualifications as well as make note of what is missing in these materials that needs to be included in the essay.
For example, if you're applying for a general academic scholarship, you might want to talk about a specific class you took that really piqued your interest or inspired your current academic and career goals. The committee will see the list of the classes that you took on your transcript but they won't know how a particular class inspired you unless you tell them. The essay is the best place to do this. Your list of important points to make might also include:
- Any academic awards or other honors you've won.
- Any AP or college-level courses you took in high school.
- Any outside courses, internships, or other academic experiences that won't necessarily appear on your transcript.
- Why your experience and the mission of the funding organization match.
- What you plan to major in during college and how you think that major will be useful to your future career goals.
- Any special training or knowledge you have, or a project you completed in school or as an extracurricular activity.
- An example of how you overcame a challenge.
- Your financial circumstances that makes it necessary for you to finance your studies through scholarship money.
The challenge now is to integrate those points that you want the committee to know with an essay that answers the prompt. You can see our example scholarship essays to get a better idea of how to do this.
Step 3: Write an Outline or a Rough Draft
Not everyone likes to make an outline before they begin writing, but in this case it can be very helpful. You can start with your list of important points to begin writing the outline. For many, telling a story is the easiest and most effective way to write a scholarship essay. You can tell the story of how you found your favorite book, and how it has changed and inspired you. Start with large headings in your outline that describes the basic storyline. For example:
- High school composition teacher recommended book
- Read it over one weekend
- Made me see the world around me differently
- Inspired me to pursue a career in social justice
Now you can start filling in the subheadings with points from your previous list:
- High school composition teacher recommended book
- Favorite class in high school
- Class opened my eyes to new ways of thinking
- Teacher noticed my enthusiasm—recommended outside reading
- Read it over one weekend
- Was the first time I was so drawn in by a book, I read it very quickly
- I realized my academic potential beyond getting good grades
- Made me see the world around me differently
- Started to look for jobs in social justice
- Interned for a summer at a law firm doing pro bono work for the poor
- This was a big challenge because I realized you can't help everyone and resources are limited
- Overcame this challenge by knowing that small change can be big, and working hard in a field you are passionate about will inspire you everyday
- Inspired me to pursue a career in social justice
- The book is a constant source of inspiration and will keep me motivated as I pursue my career
- The book will always remind me how people with limited financial resources can still make a huge difference in others' lives
Step 4: Write a Strong Statement that Summarizes Your Points
You will want to include one strong thesis statement that summarizes all the major points you will make in your essay. It is often easy to start writing with this simple statement. Your essay doesn't have to begin or end with the thesis statement, but it should appear somewhere in order to tie all the individual sections together.
For example, your thesis statement might be, "You will find that various experiences from both my academic career and my personal life align very well with your organization's mission: shaping community leaders who are working towards a more just and sustainable world." Starting with this sentence can help you organize your thoughts and main points, and provide you with a direction for your essay. When you've finished your essay, be sure to reflect back on your thesis statement and ask yourself, "Does this essay further explain and support my thesis statement?"
Step 5: Fill in the Missing Parts
Now that you have a thesis statement, an outline, and a list of important points to include, you can begin to fill in the missing parts of your story. The first sentence is particularly important: it should capture the attention of the reader, and motivate him or her to continue reading. We recommend starting your story by painting a vivid picture of an experience about which you will be talking in the essay.
For example: "It is 6 am on a hot day in July, I've already showered and I'm eating breakfast. My classmates are all sleeping in and the sun has yet to awaken, but I'm ready to seize the day, as I couldn't imagine spending my summer any other way but interning at a local law firm that specializes in representing the poor. I work a typical 8-5 day during my summer vacation and nothing has made me happier. But I wouldn't be here if it weren't for one particularly savvy teacher and a little book she gave me to read outside of class."
Step 6: Rewrite, Revise, Rewrite
A good writer rewrites and revises his or her work many, many times. After getting a first draft on paper, take a day or two away from the essay and then come back to it with fresh eyes. Make appropriate edits for content, and pay attention to proper spelling and grammar. If need be, you might want to write an entirely new draft and then integrate the best of both into a final draft. Writing a new draft can inspire you to think of new ideas or a better way to tell your story. Some other tips to think about as you rewrite and revise:
- Make sure it sounds like your voice. You want the scholarship committee to feel like they are getting to know you. If you don't sound authentic, the committee will know. It is better to be yourself than to say what you think the committee wants to hear.
- Strike a balance between modesty and arrogance. You should be proud of your accomplishments, but you don't want to sound arrogant. Don't exaggerate a story; instead be clear about what you did and the impact it had and let that speak for itself.
- Check to make sure you are answering the prompt and fulfilling all other requirements of the essay as directed by the committee, such as font preference and word count limits.
- Don't just list your accomplishments; describe them in detail and also tell the reader how you felt during these experiences.
- A scholarship essay is not a dissertation. You don't need to impress the committee with big words, especially if you're not completely clear if you're using them correctly. Simplicity and clarity should be the goals.
- Make sure your essay will be read from the beginning to the end. Committee members won't dedicate much time to reading the essay, so you need to make sure they are given motivation to read the entire thing. If you are telling a story, don't reveal the end of the story until the end.
- Check to make sure the buzzwords from the mission statement appear. It is easy to forget the scholarship committee's goals as you write. Return to their mission statement and look for spots to place keywords from the statement. Be sure, however, that you're not copying the mission statement word-for-word.
Step 7: Have someone else read your essay
Ideally, you could give your essay to a teacher or college admissions counselor who is familiar with scholarship essays and the college admission process. If such a person is not available, virtually anyone with good reading and writing skills can help make your essay better. When your editor is done reading and you've looked over his or her notes, be sure to ask the following questions:
- Was the story interesting and did it hold your attention?
- Were there any parts that were confusing?
- Did you find any spelling or grammar errors?
- Does the essay sound like my voice?
- Does the essay respond appropriately to the prompt?
- Is there anything you would have done differently or something you thought was missing?
After having an editor (or two or three) look over your draft, it is time again to revise and rewrite.
Step 8: Refine the Final Draft
Once you feel satisfied with the draft, review it one more time and pay particular attention to structure, spelling, grammar, and whether you fulfilled all the required points dictated by the committee. If you are over the required word count, you will need to make edits so that you are within the limit. If you are significantly under the word count, consider adding a supporting paragraph.
Essay Writing Center
Misconception: No one actually reads your scholarship essay! – Wrong!
Fact: Your essay is the key to your scholarship application. It is an opportunity to demonstrate to the selection committee that you are a well-rounded individual, that you are more than your GPA, that you are a strong writer, and it gives you a chance to talk about your experiences and qualifications in greater detail than what appears on your resume or transcripts.