College Prowler No Essay Scholarship Reality

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My obsession with colleges began during my sophomore year of high school. At first, I considered all colleges exotic; I just longed for the future. But as I learned more and more about college rankings, I fell into the information trap.

Soon, I found myself buying numerous books about “top” colleges, constantly flipping through them and filling them with sticky notes. I probably had those pages close to memorized. I probably still do.

At first, I thought I wanted to go to a small liberal arts school. Then, a few months later, I wanted to go to a prestigious larger school. After I discovered said school, I thought it was the only school I could possibly go to. I thought about it all the time. I just had to go there. I attended every event for prospective students and constantly searched through the website, planning all of the clubs I would join and the classes I would take.

Flash forward to the beginning of senior year: I go to another event for prospective students. I do not come home in love with the school like all the other times before. Instead, I come home feeling anxious, worried and tense. I can’t see myself fitting in with the people there, but I push past that, marking it off as one bad experience.

Another month passes. Admittedly, I still haven’t started that application. I’ve started all the rest. A lot of people at my school want to go to the same college, and they’re constantly stressed out. They’re constantly talking about what will or will not get them into college. That’s not the kind of environment I would do well in or be happy in; I know that.

Before I know it, it’s October. I go to a scholarship competition at a nearby school. I don’t know much about the school prior to attending the competition, but once I’m there, I feel as though the program was possibly made for me. The speaker says words that I feel were directly taken from my mind. Words that I would’ve said.

As I walk across campus, everyone seems so friendly. I pour my heart out into my competition essay. I leave feeling happy.

For the following months, I start thinking that maybe I simply don’t have a “dream school.” I don’t know if I want to go to any of the schools I applied to. I look through college websites, looking at the details I’ve already memorized.

Maybe I should’ve applied at a school in a big city. Maybe I should’ve applied somewhere more prestigious. Maybe I have no idea about anything.

I still hear people obsessing about my once coveted “dream school.” I sit in the corner, rolling my eyes and silently converting to the fandom of a different sports team. I realize that what everyone says about “fit” is so true. I am not a fit at that school. I never was. I never could be.

I get my scholarship offer from the nearby school and it makes me so happy. I immediately look at all of my opportunities at the school and remind myself of how much I loved it when I visited. I join the student group and talk to other students. I love that school more than the books of top colleges do and I finally realize that doesn’t matter.

The problem with “dream schools” is that we think they have to be something that instantly impresses everyone; something difficult to achieve, something that only “the best people” can have, something that everyone wants. We think something is only a dream if it has a low acceptance rate. We think our “dream school” is invalid if it’s not on the list of top 20 schools in the country.

This is simply not true. Choosing a school is a long process. For me, I feel as though it began during my sophomore year as I searched through all of the “top” colleges, naively trying to find my way.

My decision took two years and lots of stress. People kept telling me that it would all work out, and I wouldn’t believe them. But after all the time and the worry, it really did all fall into place. The most important thing to consider when choosing a college is you. Push past the rankings and your friends and your classmates; when it’s simply about you, the decision becomes much easier. It becomes something that you can feel; something that you just know.

When choosing your dream school, choose your dream school.

The school that offers a program that you feel will teach you something, regardless of its supposed ranking. The school that provides you with all of the resources necessary for your success. The school that has a student body you can see yourself amongst. The school that caters to your interests and will challenge you and inspire you. The school that you will thrive in.

Maybe that school will be in the books of top colleges. Maybe it won’t. It doesn’t matter. The rankings don’t have to dictate your dreams; your dream school may not be on someone else’s list, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on yours.

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Shay Spivey’s story is one which many students looking to pay for school can relate to and gain inspiration from. Like students of all ages, she found herself in the all-too-common conundrum of having college aspirations without the finances to make her dreams a reality. Most students aren’t independently wealthy, after all.

However, Spivey’s scholarship story is unique due to the fact that her search began later than that of a typical college student. As a young single mother, Spivey began to reevaluate her life when she turned 30. One of her goals in life had always been to get a college degree. But, with limited means and supporting her children, Spivey was working full-time and only had the means for community college courses.

Like many thirty-somethings, she was on a tight budget and still had student loans from when she had originally attended college. Spivey shared that, while it was helpful to attend classes, she was taking one or two at a time and began to become concerned at how long the process was taking. Plus, it was difficult to fit in a full-time job and taking care of her kids on top of classes.

As a result, she shifted her goals, feeling that it was better for her to work toward her degree full-time, so she wouldn’t have to take night courses which would impact her kids. That’s exactly what Spivey set out to do.

It takes hard work to become a $100k scholarship winning success story.

While working her full-time job, she began to utilize her lunch hours and all of her spare time at the library, researching her options to obtaining help to pay for school.

“The first year, I spent my lunch hours and evening applying for scholarships. I had a goal to apply for one scholarship a day, sometimes one a week.”

She embarked on the process about a year before she actually intended on going back to school in order to give her plenty of time to gain the funding she needed to make her goals a reality. During her time researching scholarships and financial aid, Spivey discovered Fastweb.

According to Spivey, “I found that Fastweb was the number one site I’d use – the majority of my scholarship search was done with Fastweb. I don’t think I could have done it without it. Fastweb is the easy way – it does the work for you.”

With the help of Fastweb, Spivey began applying for any and all scholarships she qualified for and put 100 percent of her efforts toward doing so. But, as with most worthwhile things, Spivey’s scholarship search wasn’t easy. Spivey applied for her first scholarship and details, “I put everything I had into it – my essay was tailored and I worked hard on the application. It turns out I didn’t get it and I was heartbroken. But, it started me on the path of how to apply to scholarships. I did that one, so I figured I could do others.”

That first year, Spivey applied for a total of 67 scholarships and received decline letters for the majority of them. Those letters, thankfully, didn’t discourage her from pursuing her dream, instead it helps her gain a different perspective on the whole situation.

“For every 1 scholarship I won, I received at least 10 rejections. I switched my perspective: I counted the “no” letters and when I got to 10, I knew a yes was coming soon! There was a time that I was getting a decline letter in the mail every day.”

That first year, her dedication and efforts paid off. Spivey was awarded $18,500 in scholarships to attend school and, because many of the scholarships she applied for were for single parents, working mothers and adult students, she was able to supplement her income with the additional award amounts she won for things like childcare, housing, etc. after paying for her tuition.

Spivey was ultimately awarded 22 scholarships, totaling over $100,000 throughout the five years she returned to college, in addition to the Federal Pell Grants and the Indiana State Frank O’Bannon Grant Higher Education Award.

What’s her secret?
Well, in addition to putting forth all of her time and effort, Spivey recommends a binder method. Basically, she would keep all of her applications, recommendation letters, transcripts and anything else necessary to applying for scholarships organized within a three-ring binder, which she took everywhere that first year.

“Most scholarships asked the same question(s), so I kept my personal essay and reused it, tailoring it to each of the scholarships I applied for. The number one organizational tip I’d say is to keep a three-ring binder with copies of transcripts, letters of recommendation – everything I needed to apply for scholarships I kept in that binder. I checked Fastweb every day and, whenever there was a new scholarship opportunity, I was able to quickly put all of the pieces together.

She’d request that her letters of recommendation be addressed generally because “the majority of scholarships will take a general letter that speaks to your character and I was able to take one letter, make 20 copies and use it for multiple scholarships.”

What advice would this scholarship winner give for your scholarship search?
Two of her biggest pieces of advice for students looking for scholarships are the following:

“Don’t be afraid of the essay. The personal essay is the easiest essay you will ever write – it is YOUR story. Who knows your story better than you?”

The second piece of advice helped her maintain financial support after winning scholarships – an aspect many scholarship winners may forget about or neglect.

“Once you win a scholarship, good communication is the key to keeping that scholarship for multiple years of support.”

Through these methods, Spivey was able to pay for five years of education and supplement housing and childcare costs (when applicable funding was given), winning a total of more than $100k in scholarships. After finishing school, she now has both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work, which she uses to help people with mental health and addictions counseling.

She urges students to recognize that “there is free money out there; you just need to find it. The thing I hear most often is “I would not know what to do.” My purpose is really to teach people how to access the money that’s out there and available for them. A lot of these people qualify for financial aid, scholarships, grants and more.”

If you think her story is miraculous, Spivey also wants students of all ages to know that her story came out of hard work and effort. It wasn’t an easy process and her success didn’t come overnight. In fact, Spivey notes, “I didn’t qualify for a lot of opportunities because I was an adult student so imagine how many more scholarships students of high school age qualify for. There is so much money out there.”

After people began to hear about Spivey’s scholarship success story, they began to seek her out for help.

“I started doing financial aid counseling in my living room and at the library. After a while, I had to start turning people away because there were so many people who wanted to know how you win scholarships. I even hand out Fastweb flyers to people in my classes but I found a lot of people needed one on one help with guidance and direction. I couldn’t help everyone – that’s when I started turning people away. Everyone was asking the same questions so I figured let me write it down to help people get the basics of what it’s about to apply for scholarships.”

And that’s exactly what she did. Spivey wrote a series of short books for people that cannot afford college planning or financial aid counselors. She also gives workshops to help people with the scholarship and financial aid processes, where a large part of her tutorials are simply sharing what she learned throughout her own process. She’s tailored her books to be formatted like workbooks, with worksheets, bulleted lists and quick tips, and they can be read cover-to-cover in as little as 30 minutes.

“The people that come to my workshops – they’re the parents that cannot afford to send their child to school and are desperate for help. I give up my weekends and evening so I can show those families that there are free ways you can go to school, you just need to know how to access them,” says Spivey.

In an effort to pay it forward, Spivey now teaches scholarship workshops in partnership with schools and organizations that help disadvantaged students access higher education.

You can learn more about Shay Spivey on her website and find her books which include, How to Submit a Winning Scholarship Application and How to Find Scholarships and Free Financial Aid for Private High Schools, on Amazon.

Need Money to Pay for College?

Every semester, Fastweb helps thousands of students pay for school by matching them to scholarships, grants, and internships, for which they actually qualify. You'll find high value scholarships like VIP Voice's $5,000 Scholarship, and easy to enter scholarships like Niche $2,000 No Essay Scholarship, and internships with companies like Apple, Google, Dreamworks, and even NASA!

Join today to get matched to scholarships or internships for you!


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