We’ve worried and stewed about how to pay for our daughter’s college years since she was tiny. You see, my husband and I both were extremely blessed to have parents that committed to paying for our college educations. Don’t get me wrong – we were expected to finish in 4 years and to have jobs that would provide us with spending money and to commit ourselves to our studies. But all in all, we didn’t really have to worry about paying for college. We knew when our daughter Alyssa was born that we would do the same thing for her. But as university costs rose above everyone’s expectations we, like most parents, wondered how we would do it.
I’d heard all about the many scholarships that go unclaimed and seen the different websites for searching for scholarships. So, when our daughter was a junior in high school I spent an afternoon at the library with what was basically a reference book that listed thousands of scholarships. They were grouped by state or college or major or ethnicity and I found quite a few that applied to Alyssa and I wrote them all down in a purple spiral notebook. I left the library that day with 40-50 names of scholarships to research. The problem was that the books I was looking in had no section in their lists for scholarships that were pretty much open to any student, living anywhere in the US, going to any college of their choice.
How was I going to find those? A little internet searching and the wealth of possibilities opened up before me. I began searching any word I could think of with the word ‘scholarship’ behind it. I may have become a little obsessed in my searching. I soon had a list of over 200 that she was eligible to apply for and we started weeding out the ones that weren’t in her wheelhouse. For example, she was eligible for the Peck Law Firm Scholarship but she wasn’t cracked about writing an essay with a question about politics. We narrowed the list to around 80 or 90 that she thought she might have a fighting chance of winning.
Alyssa ended up applying for about 75 scholarships during her senior year of high school. I was secretly happy when the last one was sent out because the level of organization we had cultivated over the last year to get applications for all of them out on time was exhausting. We had started from scratch and my spiral notebook had grown from a couple pages of content to an unsightly mess and finally to a 3 ring binder where I could keep track of all the things that scholarship applications ask for consistently.
I thought to myself that I had spent enough time researching and finding good scholarships, she had spent quality time writing essays, and her dad had worked extra hours at our restaurant so we could get all that done. We had given it a good try. Now it was over and hopefully she would get a scholarship or two to help pay for a small percentage of college, we could apply for those same ones the next year and not “waste” our time on applying for so many. But as she began receiving not only rejection letters but congratulatory letters and the scholarships started piling up, we realized that she was close to having her freshman year paid in full! Along with the money came the realization that we were going to have to do this process all over again for the next year and I was going to have to get even more organized about the process.
When the last award notification came in that put her scholarship money at $200 OVER what she needed to pay tuition, fees, books, and room & board in the dorms, I sat there, stunned. I even surprised Alyssa as I started crying (and people that know me know I’m not a crier!). But this was such a load lifted off our shoulders that I just couldn’t stop myself.
It’s thrilling to read those congratulatory letters. They mean several things:
- Your burden of paying for college decreases with each letter.
- You know that no matter what happens your child can get the education they want and deserve without a gigantic amount of student debt.
- AND THIS IS THE BEST ONE – Those scholarship committees write such nice and flattering things about your offspring and they think your child is special! Family and friends can tell you how wonderful your child is, but let’s face it, they pretty much have to tell you that!
Of course, we were so thrilled that we were telling anyone that would listen how proud we were of our daughter and how she was making this whole transition to college thing easier on her dad and me. As we told friends and family of our good luck I had several people asking how we did it. I would proudly show them my notebook with all my newly organized information.
Friends started asking for help and I began writing down little sets of instructions and making 3 ring binders for them. I would search for scholarships that would be good for their kids as well as give them the list of scholarships that almost any student would be eligible to win. I started a scholarship database to help myself and friends out and with each notebook I gave away, I tweaked it and added more detail. It was about a year later when a random person walked into my restaurant and said that they had heard that I might be able to help them out in the search for scholarships. An entrepreneurial lightbulb began to glow in a little corner of my brain.
By this point in time, we were knee deep in the application process for my daughter’s sophomore year. And once again, THIS PROCESS WAS WORKING! There’s a whole slew of scholarships that you aren’t eligible for once you’re out of high school, but there’s also a whole lot more that you ARE eligible for now that you’re already in college. We were looking for different scholarships and weeding through our list again and again. My list was growing, I was adding scholarships to the list daily, she was getting college paid for, and more people were asking me for my insights.
That little lightbulb in the corner of my mind began to grow brighter and ‘Ships Ahoy is the result.