The average cost of attending a four-year college ranges from about $10,000 to $35,000 a year. With expenses like that, it’s no wonder that the average student graduates with more than $37,000 in debt.
That’s why scholarships are so important: The more money you win, the less you’ll need to rely on federal or private student loans.
While you might win a few hundred bucks here and there from a local group or state grant, getting enough cash to fully fund your education can feel impossible. But it’s that very misconception that led Neha Gupta to create College Shortcuts and Elite Private Tutors.
Through her two companies, Gupta has helped more than 14,000 students get into the colleges of their dreams and secure thousands of dollars in scholarships. She even helped one high schooler named Michael score $300,000 worth of scholarships.
“I remember my college application process was extremely stressful,” says Gupta. “Instead of feeling confident, organized, and relaxed, I felt like I was rushed, late to the game, and completely anxiety-ridden. And I feel so many kids are also lost in the cracks and do not know what to do.”
Michael was one of those students who, despite going to a top high school in Texas, felt he lacked guidance from his counselors to get into and cover the costs of the schools he wanted to attend.
He hired Gupta after hearing from his dermatologist that she was a college acceptance and scholarship whisperer, and the pair worked together for two weeks.
“This student was amazing,” says Gupta. “He had the drive and the skill set but needed the extra help. We spent our time together applying to 10 schools, all of which he got accepted to, and he got a combined $300,000 of scholarships.”
And Michael wasn’t the only success story. Gupta has helped thousands of students apply for scholarships, scoring some of them from $40,000 to $350,000.
“Whenever a student works with me, my goal is to completely cover my fees as a consultant,” she says. “This way it is a no-brainer, because a strong application with the right school will always get scholarships. You don’t have to be the valedictorian.”
3 tips for scoring scholarships worth thousands
Here are Gupta’s tactics for getting the money you need to pay for college.
1. Do your research
Like getting good grades, finding money to pay for college takes work. But unless you’re a sports star or the future Einstein, it’s unlikely anyone will approach you offering scholarships. Instead, you’ll have to do a lot of digging.
Thankfully, there are countless scholarships available, based on everything from your heritage to your hobbies. Start by researching scholarships from local and national organizations, as well as online, then flag the ones for which you might be eligible.
“I would recommend looking into Fastweb.com and Scholarships.com,” says Gupta. “And specifically reviewing it two hours per week. That is a great way to help break the process into pieces and to do a thorough search of what’s out there.”
And don’t scoff at scholarships that are just a few hundred dollars. Every dollar adds up. That’s how Julia Isabel Martinez Rivera racked up over $50,000 worth of scholarships.
2. Apply early
The biggest misconception, according to Gupta, is that you can wait until later in your senior year to apply for scholarships. But by then, a lot of the money has been disbursed or application deadlines have passed.
“You must start early,” she says. “Tons of companies and programs have free money to give out to students to pay for college, but they start looking at applicants early in the school year. You should start applying in junior year of high school, if not sooner.”
Although organizations and colleges will have different deadlines to apply for scholarships, getting yours in early will help you access the pot of money sooner and leave you time to apply for multiple scholarships.
These applications often require an essay, so it can be overwhelming to try to apply for a bunch of scholarships at once.
If you start the process before your senior year of high school, you can focus on applying for one scholarship at a time over several months. The quality of your application will be better, and you’re more likely to get the money you need.
3. Write a great essay
Colleges and scholarship programs are trying to narrow down their applicant pools, and need a way to differentiate students besides test scores. Essays show who you are and why you’re worthy beyond just a statistic.
“Essays truly matter and [are] the part where most students mess up,” says Gupta. “It can make all the difference between getting a few hundred dollars in scholarships versus $300,000. Our essays are powerful. Once we help craft them with the students, they are able to use it for their applications and scholarships, helping them land more acceptance letters and money.”
While Gupta has developed a formula to help students go beyond the generic application answers and make them stand out in the crowd, there are some important factors to remember if you’re tackling these essays on your own.
Ensure you’re following the directions stipulated by the organization. Not abiding by the guidelines could get you disqualified and be a waste of your time.
Check for spelling and grammar mistakes. You don’t want simple slip-ups ruining your chances at free money.
Write in your voice, from the heart. Sharing something memorable and meaningful, such as a personal story, will highlight your strengths in an engaging way.
Avoid repeating anything that’s already on your resume or application. Use the essay as a way to dive deeper into who you are, rather than what you’ve done.
You can score thousands in scholarships
Scholarships aren’t reserved for the top of the class or the best athlete on the team.
There are millions of dollars out there waiting to be handed out to students for a variety of reasons, but students don’t always know how to tap into that pot. And it’s that lack of knowledge that continues to drive Gupta and her business.
“I have always been fascinated with tutoring children and helping them get into the college of their dreams,” she says. “This is hands down one of the biggest shifts in their journey as an adult. More mentors are needed in this, and it is sad how many 30-somethings are doing jobs they didn’t even want to do because they didn’t get the head start they deserved.”
Even if you can’t hire a mentor such as Gupta, following her tips could help you get the scholarship money you deserve. A good place to start? Apply for Student Loan Hero’s $5,000 award.
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