#128 Winning College Scholarships: Expert Tips with Dave The Scholarship Coach Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins 00:42

In today’s episode, we’re diving into the world of scholarships and how your team can find and win them to make college more affordable. I’m excited to be joined by Dave, the scholarship coach whose own son attended college for free. Thanks to the scholarships he won. Dave is joining us to share his expertise to help defray your college costs. And our conversation Dave shares his proven framework for navigating the scholarship process. From understanding the three main categories of scholarships to starting the application process early, we’ll cover everything you need to know to maximize your team’s chances of securing funding. Dave’s insights will help your family uncover often overlooked private scholarships and provide a step by step guide for your team to become a better scholarship applicant. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the soaring cost of college and want to learn how to make it more affordable through scholarships, this episode is for you. I’m Lisa Mark Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right into a great conversation.

Lisa Marker Robbins 01:57

Dave Peterson, or I should say Dave, the scholarship coach. Welcome to the show. Thanks for joining me.

Dave Peterson 02:05

Well, thank you so much for having me on. I’m excited to be here. I’ve been looking forward to this all week. And just really, I think that’s because we had such a great conversation on my podcast that I want to be sure your listeners if they haven’t heard it, they do because I think it’s Was it one of my best episodes and really important information. So I knew this is gonna be another great conversation. Thank

Lisa Marker Robbins 02:26

you. I didn’t even know that compliment was coming. Thank you. We will be sure to we did have a lot of fun. And I think it fit really well with how you help people. So we’ll be sure to link to the episode when I was on your show. And the show notes and that was that was dropped on May 4. Right.

Dave Peterson 02:47

May 5, I believe it was okay. Double check on that.

Lisa Marker Robbins 02:51

I hope it’s May 4, may the fourth be with you?

Dave Peterson 02:55

It will you are correct. It was May 4 I should have known Star Wars day there you

Lisa Marker Robbins 03:00

going to Star Wars Day. So you can go to Dave Show and look up Star Wars Day. And it was a conversation on really a different a different but complementary topic. And so I thought oh my goodness, my listeners must learn about scholarships and navigating this with you. You know, is we’ve been talking and getting to know each other and I’ve been so impressed with how you’re supporting people. I I’m kind of surprised by the three categories of scholarships, like I think, I think even IEC like myself, and families just think of like, just scholarships, like there’s one bucket. And when I hear you talk about there’s three different types, and I would not do it a justice. So we’re gonna have you share about that. I think it’s enlightening. And I think it reframes how families need to think about scholarships. So what are those three categories? And how do you differentiate them?

Dave Peterson 04:01

Yeah, so there’s probably a number of different ways that they could be categorized. But I think the three categories that I use, make it very simple and easy to understand. So the first would be merit aid. And these are going to be scholarships given by the colleges themselves. They’re based on for lack of a better word, a student’s talents could be athletic, academic, artistic, maybe some some other type of talent or interests that they have. But that’s, that’s merit aid from the colleges themselves. Second is going to be need based financial aid. And this is where the FAFSA comes in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. That category is entirely based on a family’s income and assets. So net net, the higher your income, the more assets you have, the less you’re gonna get in need based aid. And people vastly underestimate what need means. Maybe I’m saying that the wrong way maybe they overestimate but for For instance, I recently saw somebody post on a forum that I’m in that this person is a teacher and her husband has, I would say, a nice job. And they were surprised that they were not categorized as financially lower middle class, and they got absolutely nothing from married or excuse me from need based aid. So, yeah, that’s I think one of the biggest surprises that people find out is that you have to really have very little financially to to qualify for need based aid. So that brings us to the third category of scholarships, which are private or outside scholarships. So these are scholarships not offered by the colleges, they’re instead offered by private organizations, whether it’s companies or philanthropic organizations. We’ll probably talk a little bit more about how I got into scholarships. But this is where we really found the most success for my son, which was the impetus for me starting our full scholarship journey, about two thirds of the scholarships that he won came from private sources. Now, there may be a financial component for some private scholarships, but it’s pretty rare. There may be some talent, or merit type requirements for private scholarships, not quite as rare. But the thing I like to say is that if your students go into college or trade school or technical school or culinary school, whatever, there’s very likely a scholarship that they can qualify for. So those private scholarships are really, I think, under emphasized even by suppose it experts, and the merit aid is over emphasized, in my opinion. So that’s a long way to get to those three categories.

Lisa Marker Robbins 06:38

Yeah, well, I would agree with that. I mean, I have worked over the last 25 years with students who they have very high GPA, good academic rigor, excellent AC T scores. So they have, you know, a 3435 36, ac T, people are shocked. I live in Cincinnati, Ohio, and people in my area, I work with people all over the country. But if somebody’s in my backyard, a coveted school a lot of time is Ohio State University. And it would, you could, that would be our like, most selective of our public universities, we have a lot of public universities here, just like we have a lot of public universities down in Florida where you are. And then when I tell somebody with a perfect AC t score, that Ohio State tends to give about 2500 to $3,000 off for that perfect AC t score. Actually, they want to call me a liar. And I’ve got decades of data to prove, and outcomes that they will experience that that’s not the case. And so, you know, everybody should be very proud of the work that they’ve done. But it doesn’t always there are schools where it will yield really great merit aid. And there’s a lot of schools where families assume that there’s going to be a big payout on that Ohio State. It’ll be an example University of Cincinnati, where my sister, my sister, my daughter just graduated from she, they give very little for super high AC T scores as well. So another thing too, is on those talents that you set are tied. Families don’t always realize that universities have institutional priorities. Right, right, have a previous episode on institutional priorities that I’ll link to in the show notes. But a talent could even be like, oh, we need a soprano. We need a tuba player on the marching band. Like, it could be that specific and so that they’re the kids like, oh my gosh, we’re desperate for a tuba player. They’re gonna give a little bit more money and maybe give a little bit of academic leeway to who qualifies. So,

Dave Peterson 08:50

yeah, well, if you don’t mind, do you? Can I read something that I pulled off of a forum? This is a parent, I don’t know this person. I don’t have their permission. So I’m going to redact a little bit of that. Yeah, it’ll it’ll drive this point home. So here’s what what this person wrote and Magix imagine explaining to your student that’s graduating as valedictorian, perfect AC t 1590, Sae National Merit finalist. And then she lists a bunch of other accomplishments that are really quite impressive. The student had his heart set on out of state big name University was accepted with no merit aid. Also got into namebrand flagship in State University and only got 3000 for the year aligns very much with what you said. He spent his entire career focused on studies only to pologize for the language here get screwed through the process. So again, I don’t know this person don’t know, of course, all the details, but I think it really does speak to the fact that you, I don’t think you should rely on merit aid if you’re one and your your student get through school debt free or with as little student loan debt as possible. Now you want to take advantage of it when it’s there. But you definitely want to look at the other two categories, the need based if if if you qualify, most people don’t. So that leaves the private scholarships. And that’s where I think a lot of people are just kind of missing the boat. Yeah.

Lisa Marker Robbins 10:21

So you had your history, and you kind of teased it up there. You are serious about your son having no debt coming out of college. And so you are and you are not working in this space, you double down and figure this out as a dad successfully. So

Dave Peterson 10:41

yeah, I would like to think so. Yeah, that I mean, my son was the entire motivation for this. So, you know, I’ll reveal my age here. So I’m Gen X, or I turned 50. Last year. So I kind of came of age at a time around the turn of the millennium, when people were talking about inflation. And they talked about how things cost so much, or how much things have gone up. And I was really a skeptic, because gas was still about a buck. I’m like, okay, Milly went up five cents, big deal. And so I was in this mindset for a lot of my young adult life, that inflation was really overblown. When my son hit high school, and I realized college was coming up, I’m like, Well, okay, I guess I should see, because I keep hearing about this student loan crisis and how Expensive Colleges and I was completely wrong, at least in college. Inflation and, and the cost of everything was just had skyrocketed since I’ve been in school. And I panicked, I’m like, we don’t have the money for this. And I do not want him to start life, you know, 100,000 $200,000 in debt. So you’re right. I educated myself on the world of scholarships. And by his junior year, he applied for his first scholarship, we were very fortunate that he had some early success. He wanted actually three scholarships, his junior year of high school, we went all in his senior year. And by the time he graduated, he had over $50,000, in just private scholarships, he continued to earn more through college, and he is graduating in a week from today, completely debt free, we are not sure if it’s going to be completely free, because he has to take one online course over the summer to actually get that diploma, although he gets to walk with his spring class. And we are not sure if a scholarship that he has will allow those funds to be used for the summer course. So worst case scenario, we’re gonna have to pay about maybe 1500 for his entire college education. This case might be free.

Lisa Marker Robbins 12:45

Wow. Well, okay, first of all, congratulations. My youngest also just graduated, and you’re in good Gen X company here on the way Yeah, I’m a few years, five years older. So hey, you’re you’re not alone. In this we’re in we’re talking to people who are. They’re not our age. They’re almost our age. Right? Yep. And so it helps that we’ve gone through this before. So congrats to your son. That’s amazing. Thanks. And makes me go back and think like, oh, my gosh, I was aggressively saving. And maybe we could have done some things different. One of the things that stands out to me that you said was your son won his first private scholarships, his junior year of high school, and in my IEC world, and in my college major and career coaching world where I am fully entrenched and focused on supporting families. What I hear from families is private scholarships don’t even go top of mind until after they hit submit on the college applications. And then it’s like, Oh, my goodness, or they’re halfway through senior year, there’s a sprint to the finish line. So I heard a you started earlier. And you continued, It sounds like you continued after high school graduation. So like, what are the steps for going through this and what’s the right time to start? I guess?

Dave Peterson 14:10

Well, the right time to start is pretty much once your kid is in school, and by in school, I’m talking kindergarten, believe it or not, there are there are few scholarships. Not many, I’ll admit, but there are scholarships for grade school. There’s few more in middle school. There’s even more for high school freshmen, sophomores, Junior year if I had to be I’ll say realistic. Junior year is really when you should should get the ball rolling on scholarships. And don’t wait till the end of junior year. There is a private, full ride scholarship that is closed by about December January of a student’s junior year of high school. As we’re speaking there is a full tuition scholarship for it would be class of 2025. So juniors rising into seniors. There’s aside from just the obvious benefit of potentially winning those or other scholarships that are open to younger students, I think the biggest benefit is getting the student used to applying for scholarships, learning the best practices, getting some of those essays written and nailed, so that it’s plug and play, when those big senior year scholarships come around. And you just said, if you’re waiting until you’re done with the college application process, you have missed, I’m not gonna say the bulk of scholarships, but the bulk of the really big ones. Now, thankfully, if you if you have waited until second half of a student’s senior year, probably most of your local scholarships are still going to be available. And there still will be some some big national ones. But

Lisa Marker Robbins 15:41

there’s a lot of good ones here mainly like the local Rotary or the right, exactly.

Dave Peterson 15:47

So yeah, the local Rotary, your your utility company, maybe your family dentist, there are just so many different sources for finding scholarships. And yeah, a little pro tip would be generally you do want to prioritize the local ones, because ultimately, you want to apply for scholarships that fewer people are applying for. And yeah, Coca Cola is probably the biggest name scholarship out there that most people have heard of, if they’ve heard of a private scholarship. Last year, they got over 200,000 applications. So you have very low odds of winning now I actually do still encourage students to apply for it. Because the first round there’s no essay. So super, super fast and easy. But don’t don’t count on those those big brand name scholarships. Yeah, I mean,

Lisa Marker Robbins 16:32

the competition’s less for those local ones. I actually had a student that I worked with, she is out of grad school now. So this is dating me. But she was a Coca Cola scholarship winner tastic. Wow. And but I’ve had numerous is you said, this is a very common one. And so actually, I would even say to our listeners, like if you’ve never even heard of that scholarship, which is very popular, like, then you really need the support to really understand like all of these different nuances, but she actually won it. And you’re right, she didn’t have to write the essay till later. And I would say, as at the time, I was supporting her with applications and essays, and her identifying her college major and career. And she had an excellent essay, like, what she was able to produce. As an essay that had like, authenticity, clarity. It was her essay, it was like she brought me a draft to help her proofread and brainstorm. That was my only role in it. That superseded what I saw of other students. So they kind of there is a role, like for the SA piece of this, and I wonder, I have no idea. Can you take a stab at like, what percentage of private scholarships are gonna require essays because some of them don’t.

Dave Peterson 17:59

I’m gonna say 99.9% of what also our real scholarships are going to require either an essay, although there’s a trend, where instead of an essay, they might submit a video or some type of project like that. So like a video essay. But yeah, if if there’s no work involved, other than filling out a short application. If Coca Cola got 200,000 applicants, those no essay scholarships probably get that many more. It’s basically a lottery I in fact, I call those lottery scholarships.

Lisa Marker Robbins 18:30

So those are your those are your not real scholarships. I

Dave Peterson 18:34

mean, they are real, they’re legitimate away, but they do give prizes. So I actually do encourage students to do those every month, but I encouraged them to spend like five minutes a month on those, whereas I’m going to encourage them to spend maybe five hours a month on real tougher scholarships. Okay,

Lisa Marker Robbins 18:51

so let’s talk about that kind of that process. What what do you do in the five hours a month? What does that look like? What advice what’s the pathway? Yeah,

Dave Peterson 19:02

so first of all, we’ll that kind of timeframe is going to vary from student to student, especially based on their age. So I mentioned there’s, there’s scholarships for grade school students know, they don’t need to spend five hours a month, if they spent five hours in first grade total on this, that would be way more than I would expect any any first grader to do and probably it’s not going to be an essay anyways, it’s probably gonna be like an art contest. But I would say again, probably looking at junior year, just having a routine of applying for scholarships. So maybe part of those five hours is finding the scholarships and building a list. And then maybe another part of that is actually writing essays, filling out the applications, and of course, keeping track of everything you’ve done. So you’re generally not going to hear from a scholarship if you’re not a winner, but especially if you’re starting younger, you could probably apply for that scholarship again, next shear sometimes is even as often as next month, you’ve done the work. Just even if you you don’t have much time, just plug in your same essay again, you didn’t win last time, but you might not face a stiff competition the next time. So, yeah, I think the two big pieces of that chunk of time the students should be focused on scholarships should be either finding or working on the application,

Lisa Marker Robbins 20:23

I think you offer some really great advice there on the SAP, it’s like, one of the essays that we help students write is the why this major college essay, and a lot of colleges require students to write about why they’re selecting their major because they’re assessing fit to major, if they’re a school that admits directly into a major, and which a lot of them do, particularly they tend to be more of the public universities. But I’ll say to kids, like, you might have to have three or four versions of that essay. Yes. So start with your longest one, and then edit it down. But always save everything you write. Oh, yeah, that you can repurpose it. Right. Exactly.

Dave Peterson 21:10

Yeah. And that’s, that’s one of the other benefits of starting at a younger age is that you have all of that you have those files of things that you’ve done, and you can just, you know, pull bits and pieces, plug them in. And for those big senior year scholarships, it’s just so much easier. You know, if if you’re going through the college application process, and you already have the stuff built for your essays to plug in for scholarships. Well, it’s not too hard to do both at that point, because you’ve done the legwork up front. So yeah, and that advice around. Why, why this major, that’s a very common topic for scholarships, it may not be quite worded that way. But most scholarships want to understand what makes you tick, what makes you unique, and kind of what is your your direction in life.

Lisa Marker Robbins 21:59

I love that, you know, one thing I just thought of is IECs, and school counselors, you know, they will ICS will tee up the application and essay process like right after junior year ends, right? Let’s dig in, let’s write your personal narrative. Let’s start the common app. And then school counselor, school based counselors, you know, because they didn’t see the kids all summer, they’ll tee it up at the start of school, which in my opinion is a little late. There’s a lot of essay writing to do. If if students take a family’s take the advice that you’re giving, and really start this sophomore junior year, and they’re already starting to produce some of these essays that are required for the scholarships, they actually are getting a leg up on what is a very overwhelming application process for the colleges because they can start to repurpose, and honestly like, they’re going to become a better writer, when I look at a kid who they take their first stab at maybe the personal narrative. And then by the time they get to writing in the fall when the colleges reveal what their supplemental college essays are. And they say, oh, we need you to write the community essay, or the extracurricular essay, or the why this major, they’ve already improved so much as a writer of this type of essay, that it’s much easier. So if people follow your advice on the timeline, and start doing the search in May, in writing some of these essays, sophomore and junior year, yeah, it’s only gonna make them their application process easier. And it’s only going to make them a better writer.

Dave Peterson 23:35

I like 100% that, yes, it there’s so many wins. You know, of course, winning money is the ultimate goal with the scholarship. Right? But yeah, you hit on a lot of the other things that that I really wish people understood and that is your students going to become a better writer. It prepares them for the college application process. They’re more invested in their college experience, because they are literally invested in it. They may not be putting money, they went to fast food restaurant and earned, but they earn that money through these scholarships, and so they take college more seriously. So it is more than than just about the money. But ultimately, the money is probably still the most important piece of it. Well,

Lisa Marker Robbins 24:15

right. It’s like, it has a parent who just finished paying for college, unlike you who got it for free. The parents are you know, that’s what they’re really seeking, but cash or all these other benefits. You know, it really makes me think we have a we give away a free download. It’s just a college application or college bound journey timeline. And it starts at the beginning of high school. I’ll put it in the show notes. It’s at flourish coaching co.com forward slash timeline, but I’m gonna revise it honestly. Because I always think about I say sophomore year we need to, we need to get like a timeline for when your kid will take the AC T or LSAT, right? aid. They might not be testing until halfway through the junior year because of where they are academically, but establish timeline, then establish your college budget, then that which would also demonstrate to people, how many of these private scholarships they need to get like educate themselves like you did when you’re like, oh, my gosh, no, this is not realistic. And I don’t want my kid to have debt. Yeah. And then my piece of it the college major and career coaching piece, we, you know, we say, Okay, this really should start sophomore year, because it’s a process, right? Yeah. And so I’m going to revise my download to really get this private scholar because it goes hand in hand with the making your budget. And then if you’ve done the work of making your budget, you know what gap you want to close with this private scholarships that it sounds like are certainly attainable. They

Dave Peterson 25:54

definitely are. It’s so disheartening, when I see suppose it experts just saying just chase the merit aid and forget about the rest. You know, I read that quote, and I see quotes like that, over and over again, especially this time of year when, you know, college decisions, financial aid, letters, FAFSA are all coming out. And people are, unfortunately, too often disappointed. And I even see, unfortunately, a lot of parents posting that their kids probably not going to be able to go to the school that they thought they were going to maybe a month ago because of the finances. And yeah, it’s just unfortunate. So yeah, if I had any advice to the listeners, it is Start. Start as soon as you can. And yeah, learn the process. Yeah.

Lisa Marker Robbins 26:39

So you I know you’ve been working with families, one on one helping them and you realized, hey, there’s got to be a better way to get this out to more people. And so I know it’s not quite ready. But coming soon. Tell us a little bit about what you have. Yeah, so

Dave Peterson 26:59

I am going to be launching this summer, summer 2024 that we’re in something called scholarship GPS, it is an online course where basically, I give you a brain dump of everything I’ve learned about scholarships over the past several years, both from my own journey with my son to working like you said, one on one with students and families over several years. It’s it’s organized in a very, I think, logical way where there’s a foundation of literally, I think that one of the first lessons is those are the three categories of scholarships, because you need to understand which kind of scholarships you’re chasing to, to understand the rest. So it’s laid out in a very logical format. It’s video based, it’s bite sized learning. So lessons are usually in that five minute range, probably no more than 10 minutes, students can pop in and out as they they want and they need to. And then something that I think is unique to what I’m doing with this is that I know a lot about scholarships, but I am not a college admissions expert, I am not a college major or career planning expert like yourself. So I am partnering with people like you, where you will be able to get a little bit more information about the whole college prep experience. And so you won’t just be hearing from me if it’s scholarship focus, yes, it’ll be me in the lesson. But I have other experts in other areas of college prep that will be part of the program and really excited because it is it’s going to be a low cost way for families to get this information. And then I still will have personalized coaching for for other families who want things for you know, read these essays, help us hone these essays or go out and find the scholarships for us. We’ll take that off our plate. So yeah, I’m pretty excited about it. I did kind of a trial balloon of it about a year ago, branding it as the scholarship summer camp. So taking a lot of that information, improving it and making it a little bit better branded in an evergreen way because the scholarship summer camp was great for the summer. Right come fall, nobody wanted to do it even though the information was still good. So hopefully scholarship GPS is a better brand

Lisa Marker Robbins 29:12

lounge will say where we are recording in May. But this will be ready. By your you’re planning on the end of June. And so we will have the link and put it in the show notes so that everybody can go there and find out about scholarship GPS. I wish I would have had this when we started navigating this ourselves, we would have saved me some money. I’m thinking of all the things now that I could have maybe done with that money. Yeah, it sounds like it’s achievable. I mean, you’ve been so successful at this you’ve been able to quit your, your previous day job and go all in on this. So I you know, I know you’re not playing around if you quit your job to do this. So Dave, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This is amazing. I know it’s gonna help many and we’re gonna have to have you back Another time as well.

Dave Peterson 30:01

Well, I would love to do that would love to have you back on my show. And again, really encourage people to listen to your episode when you are on my podcast, which is called your daily scholarship, such fantastic information, the mission that you provide and the work that you do just dovetails so perfectly for people who want to find and win scholarships. So, very happy to be to be working with you.

Lisa Marker Robbins 30:23

Thanks, Dave, talk soon. Thanks.

Lisa Marker Robbins 30:32

Thank you to Dave The scholarship coach for sharing his invaluable insights on finding and winning scholarships for college. I hope you found our discussion enlightening and empowering as you navigate the financial aspects of your teens college bound journey. As we wrap up, I encourage you to take the next step in securing scholarships for your team by checking out Dave’s course scholarship GPS. This comprehensive video based course offers bite sized lessons in expert guidance to help your family maximize scholarship opportunities. You can find the link to the course in the show notes or we have a special direct link for you. flourish coaching co.com forward slash scholarship G P S. If today’s episode was helpful, please share it with a friend who is overwhelmed by the cost of college and how to pay. Additionally, your ratings and reviews help us reach more families and provide the resources they need for a successful college admissions process. Thank you for listening to the College and Career Clarity podcast, where we help your family move from overwhelmed, confused to motivated, clear and confident about your teens future. I’m Lisa Mark Robbins and until next time, keep striving for clarity and competence in your teens college journey.