BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — As high school students prepare to return to class, CBS 42 is digging into ways teenagers can find scholarships.
Each year, millions of dollars worth of scholarships go unclaimed.
Career coaches and counselors all agree that a student’s grade point average and ACT score are often the most important factors for scholarships from colleges and universities, but there are other opportunities out there.
Ramsay High School alumni Christopher Gray attended Drexel University in Philadelphia after winning multiple scholarships in high school.
“Long story short, I ended up winning over a million dollars in scholarship, that wasn’t expected I think just applied for so many and I just ended up winning a lot of them,” said Gray.
While Gray may have had his tuition paid for, nothing was ever handed to him.
“You have a lot of barriers growing up, you don’t have a lot of money, you have a single mom, then my mom has two kids and you have to work and do a lot of things,” Gray said.
At Ramsay, Gray said he was motivated for college by teachers and other classmates pursuing a high education.
Without home internet access, he went to the library for several months to apply for every scholarship under the sun. He learned there were several.
“There’s scholarships for people who are left handed, people who are ginger, people who are Italian, people who are 6’4″, which I don’t qualify for, I don’t know if you do,” Gray laughed.
Gray developed an app called ‘Scholly’ that aims to help other students find future in the budget. The app matches students with scholarships they qualify for. Another feature in the app will allow for proofreading and editing.
A word of advice from Gray? Essays can be used for multiple applications. Scholly can help students find scholarships in minutes instead of months.
“You can write a few essays and actually re-use that content to actually apply for multiple scholarships so really save yourself a lot of time, there is so many scholarships out there,” said Gray.
The tool is now used by 3 million people. It is just one of many other programs, like Big Future, that are used by counselors across the country. Career coaches like Adam Blevins at the Jefferson County Board of Education remind students that deadlines come quick.
“With our four year schools in the state of Alabama, those deadlines sneak up on seniors really quickly. It is December 1st for most schools in the state,” Blevins said.
This year Blevins and other counselors will be taking part in the Jeff Co Ed Journey program. The goal is to prepare students for their career path as early as possible.
“Start thinking about what their higher education journey is going to be as early as 6th grade,” said Blevins.
The program aims to get students thinking about a specific career. Staff members can then help students by encouraging them to certain classes and steps towards the goal. Applying for scholarships is one area where counselors may have additional local resources for juniors and seniors.
“They’re going to get a lot of scholarships emailed to them from foundations, from community members, from things like that. I always tell parents to check with their job, see if the students might be eligible for any scholarships through the workplace,” said Blevins.
Blevins said teachers also encourage some students to consider community colleges for other forms of scholarships.
“Our community colleges offer excellent opportunities, there are opportunities out there that start at a 2.0 which is basically a c average, that students can go and take a technical or career tech program for basically free for those two years, they can get a certification or a degree,” said Blevins.
The first step for many students should be to fill out the application for Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FASFA. Financial information can be sent to several universities.
“After those schools receive that FASFA information they make that determination of what they can offer them in federal aid in terms of grants, work studies, and student loans,” said Blevins.
With tuition costs rising, more students are seeking ways to reduce debt after graduation.
Whether through the school counselor’s office or apps like Scholly, there are plenty of ways to get help.
“If I didn’t go through what I went through, if scholarships didn’t help me, I wouldn’t have been able to create a product that has helped students win $100,000 in scholarships so far so I feel like it takes a blessing to be a blessing,” said Gray.
To learn more information about Scholly, click here.