An Unconventional Guide to Paying for College

How to Create Your Own Scholarships

Posted by on May 1, 2013 in How to Pay College Tuition, Scholarships and Grants | 0 comments

One of the most exciting times of high school is your senior year when you get to apply for scholarships. Forget prom, pep rallies, and Friday night lights; this is where the real fun is!

You are asking individuals, businesses, and non-profit organizations to take a stake in your future. You are asking them to support you financially as you pursue your educational goals. This is one of the few times in your life where it is perfectly acceptable to ask for a hand-out from people who are happy to give them! While this process may be intimidating and frustrating at times, it can also be exhilarating.

One of the most common questions that I get here through the blog is “Where can I find more scholarships?”

I have answered that questions through other posts here and here.

Today however, I want to look at this question through a different lens.

Create Your Own Scholarships

Some of the most successful business owners are the ones who bootstrapped their own business, and built their entire empire from the ground up. They did not wait for anyone else to hand them a job, they created their own.

This same mindset can be applied to creating scholarships. Rather than applying to hundreds of scholarships that already exist, and often have applicant pools in the hundreds (or even thousands), why not drastically increase your chances of winning a scholarship and go directly to the source.

Many businesses spend millions of dollars each year on research, development and marketing. This is an untapped resource for college scholarships that nobody is utilizing.

You should start by identifying businesses that operate in a field you are interested in. For example, if you wish to go into pharmacy, then you could consider pharmaceutical manufacturing companies. If you want to go into English, then you could target publishing and printing companies. If you are a construction science major, then you could target construction companies. Architecture students should target architecture and design firms. You get the idea…

I would suggest that you identify a list of at least 30 businesses.

You should then identify someone in the Human Resources office for each of these companies. These are often the folks who either manage any existing scholarship programs, or could get you in touch with the people who do manage these programs. Your goal is to set up an in-person meeting with someone from that company.

I would recommend that you do this in writing, followed up by a phone call. Much as you would do for an official interview. Again, your main goal is to get face time with this individual.

The Scholarship Proposal

Asking for money is not a simple task. Remember, your goal is to convince the executive that you meet with that you are worth their time, energy, and money. You will need to convince this person that your future is so valuable, and that you will work so hard, that they would be crazy not to invest in you.

You should treat this as an investment. You will need a scholarship proposal and a “business plan”.

What you will propose will depend on your field but should go something like this:

Hello Mr. Executive at fancy company I admire,

My name is DJ, and I am going to be a freshman in your industry in the upcoming Fall semester. I am really excited, but am still in need of additional finances to secure my college funding.

I have created a scholarship proposal for you, which I have brought with me today. I will harness the power of my entire sizable social media influence to thank you for what you are about to do for me. I will sing your praises to every person that I know. I will be an advocate for you on our campus. I will recommend interns in your industry come to work for you, I will invite representatives from your business to my college to present and to lecture. I will incorporate your company’s research and design into my college projects. I will come to work for you in the summer after my freshman and sophomore years. I will spend my spring break working on dedicated projects for your company. In return for this, I ask for your financial support to pursue my educational goals. For my time and effort, I feel that a scholarship of $5000 per academic year would be a sufficient agreement.


Once your proposal has been submitted, you will likely have to negotiate. I can guarantee that you will get turned down at least once, but do not get discouraged! Could you imagine the possibilities if more than one business agreed to your proposal!

Obviously you would need to modify your efforts for each business (you cannot work during spring break in more than one place) but the principle is the same.

Once you get a business to agree to this proposal, you have to follow through on your promises.

The best thing about this agreement, is that a relationship of this nature could easily land you a job in the future. Imagine going through all of this effort for a company without even being a full-time employee.

If a company sees your worth and value prior to you graduating, they may try to snatch you into a full-time position once you are done with school.

The possibilities are endless.

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The Washington Monthly: A New College Ranking System

Posted by on Apr 10, 2013 in Scholarships and Grants | 0 comments

college rankings system

The college rankng system of the U.S. News and World Report has been the industry standard for many years. Conventional wisdom says that if you want to know what the best colleges in the U.S. are, you should look no further than the top of their list.

However, with many students disgruntled at the methodology behind the U.S. News and World Report ranking system, a new ranking system has emerged to challenge this paradigm.

Enter The Washington Monthly College Guide and Rankings. Their mission as stated in their methodology:

Unlike U.S. News and World Report and similar guides, this one asks not what colleges can do for you, but what colleges are doing for the country. Are they educating low-income students, or just catering to the affluent? Are they improving the quality of their teaching, or ducking accountability for it? Are they trying to become more productive—and if so, why is average tuition rising faster than health care costs? Every year we lavish billions of tax dollars and other public benefits on institutions of higher learning. This guide asks: Are we getting the most for our money?

So rather than selfishly asking what a college can do for you, this guide looks at what a college does to positive impact the nation it supports.

Antithesis of US News and World Report

The US News and World Report college ranking system has become the industry standard. In recent years however, their methodology has come under fire as being to much of a “good ‘ol boy” system. For example, within the methodology of determining their ranking system, they give a full 25% to peer rankings. So for example, if you me and 3 other of our buddies were all college presidents, we could all get together and be sure to vote each other’s colleges very high. This rating would then be used as 25% of the overall score for the college. Does that seem fair to you?

Methodology aside, the US News and World Report does not address the ability of a college to get their students employed. It does not measure the effectiveness of teaching. Like Bill Gates previously said: “The control metric shouldn’t be that kids aren’t so qualified. It should be whether colleges are doing their job to teach them. I bet there are community colleges and other colleges that do a good job in that area, but US News & World Report rankings pushes you away from that.”

What is Your Criteria?

If you are currently evaluating college admissions letters what are your top criteria for choosing which college to go to?

Be sure to think about how good of a job your college does at giving back to the community.

How well will they prepare you for the work force (that is after all, the main purpose of getting a college education right?)

Do they excel at teaching?

What is the average student loan debt of graduates?

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Sequester Cuts Military Tuition Assistance Program – Then Brings it Back

Posted by on Mar 26, 2013 in Scholarships and Grants | 0 comments

military tuition assistance

When the dreaded “Sequester” deadline was passed on March 1st, we all thought the financial world might implode. Many politicians painted a dreary picture for the future state of our economy, and government frustration was at an all time high. Then the fallout of the sequester began to take shape.

One of the worst impacts of the sequester was the elimination of the Tuition Assistant (TA) Program for the United States Military. Separate from the G.I. Bill, the TA program provided up to $4,500 per year for active duty soldiers to take classes. Over 870,000 courses were taken last year by soldiers in this very popular program.

Needless to say the outcry was quick, and powerful.

The military was in a fury over this, and the general public was also rightly outraged. How are we showing support to our military if we cut the funding necessary for them to further their education?

Where Do We Go From Here?

Not even 3 full weeks later, and Sen. Kay Hagan from North Carolina passed a continuing resolution through the Senate that reinstated the Tuition Assistant program for active duty military under the Department of Defense.

So the program is back on, and soldiers can continue taking their courses.

What can we learn from all of this?

  • It’s best to have a back up plan! 
  • Diversification is key
  • Financial Aid can be fickle
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What You Need to Know Before Studying Abroad

Posted by on Mar 29, 2012 in Scholarships and Grants | 10 comments

American Students Studying Abroad


Studying abroad is not something we have talked much about here at the Money for College Project. This may be partly because of, in my opinion, the demand to pay for your regular tuition first, before looking towards paying for a study abroad program.

However, study abroad programs are incredibly valuable, and I believe even essential for helping us build a world view outside of the little shell most of us have grown up in. Studying abroad is an excellent way to see the world, immerse yourself in a culture different than your own, and internalize that there are people in this world who are different than you. In fact, the majority of people in this world are much different than you. The lessons learned on a study abroad trip can be the jumping off point to a career, or it could be the catalyst used to signal change. You might find an entirely new career field while on a study abroad trip, or you may realize that your current course of action is not at all what you really want. You may also cement the fact that you are not really ready to settle down into a corporate 9 – 5 and you still need to experience some adventure in your life. These are all perfectly acceptable outcomes of a study abroad trip.

The infographic above is very interesting because it goes into detail about the most popular study abroad locations, and also the most popular programs and colleges which participate. It is interesting to me that the largest percentage of students studying abroad will do so in Great Britain. Italy however is a close second, that rings true from all of my experiences. Who would not want to spend a semester nestled in the hills of Tuscany sipping excellent vino and eating biscotti while studying architecture….count me in!

If you are considering a study abroad trip I hope you will find the above infographic helpful. These trips can be expensive but there are also specific scholarships that are dedicated to helping your find money for your study abroad trips.

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Scholarship of the Day: Healthy Lifestyles Scholarship

Posted by on Mar 20, 2012 in Scholarships and Grants | 5 comments

Scholarship of the Day


Award: $5000 


Deadline: May 30, 2012

The Healthy Lifestyles Scholarship is open to high school seniors and first-year college students. You must be a citizen of the U.S. or Canada and be under 25 years of age to be eligible for this award. You must also submit a maximum 1000-word essay on the following topic: “Why is a healthy lifestyle important in school?”; and in under 500 words, describe your career plans, goals, and personal ambitions.

Apply Now


How to Apply:

There is no Formal Scholarship Application. To apply for the Healthy Lifestyles Scholarship, please write your scholarship essay in Microsoft Word or, if you do not have Microsoft Word, in Google office, the latter is free to use on the Internet. After you are finished the writing process, please attach it to an email and send it to: If you have any questions or concerns, please forward them to Linda Wells ( ).

Previous Winners:
April 2011 – Carmelo Vargas – Texas
December 2010 – Shifang (Stephan) Cheong – California
May 2010 – Elizabeth Maalihan – Florida
December 2009 – Michael Striker – Minnesota


Awards Available: 1



 As of May 30th, 2012, be under 25 years of age.
 Be currently a senior in high school or in your first year of college/university
 Be a resident of the United States or Canada
 Answer the following essay questions:
1) In under 1,000 words: “Why is a healthy lifestyle important in school?”
2) In under 500 words: Describe your career plans, goals, and personal ambitions




Additional Information:

The $5000 award will be presented to the student who provides the most comprehensive answers to the two questions.

You could also win an additional scholarship.Win $1000 by taking part in Thepensters Writing Contest for college students.


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Don’t Go to College if You Can’t Afford It!

Posted by on Mar 19, 2012 in Getting Started, Scholarships and Grants | 10 comments

dont go to college

I will warn you, this post may come across as somewhat of a rant. Ok, to be honest, it is entirely a rant. However, I am passionate about this subject, and hopefully you won’t skewer me for letting you know what I truly feel. This post is somewhat of a follow-up of my post last week about the recent law introduced in Michigan to give out free college tuition.

One of the biggest problems in our country today is the fact that so many people feel entitled. They may feel entitled to a bigger house, a brand new car, a vacation twice per year, a wife, a family, a good paying job, and a college education. I work with students every day who have one goal in mind: graduate from college. They will do whatever it takes to reach this goal. That might mean sacrificing 6 years of their life in pursuit of the degree, taking out more student loans than they could ever repay in a lifetime, or it could even mean endangering their health with binge drinking or lack of sleep while in college.

Some of the most financially unhealthy people I have ever met live on college campuses. The vast majority of these students have a lot of debt and ZERO income. Student loans are structured so students can borrow the funds they need to graduate with the intent that they can then get a job and begin to repay those loans. But what if that job does not happen? Or possibly even worse, what if reality slaps them in the face and they realize that a college degree does not guarantee a cushy office job with a corner window and a fat salary?

Every day I speak with parents and students who are struggling to make ends meet. This may be because the parents lost their job and can no longer pay for their child’s education, because the student’s GPA slipped and they lost an important scholarship, or it might be because a graduate student lost the funding for his graduate assistantship and now his tuition has skyrocketed. All of these situations can be heartbreaking, but in the end my question continues to be: should you go to college if you cannot afford it?

There are many people in both sides of the “go to college at all costs” camps. Some agree, and some reject that train of thought. Whatever stance you take, I don’t think you can deny the fact that many students are obtaining their college degrees only AFTER they have put either themselves or their parents in a precarious financial state. Is it worth it?

Photo 1

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