Focused on Scholarships

By Michelle Sandoval
Program Director
Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera

We all know that the costs of college can be shocking, but don’t let financial hardship prevent you from going to your dream college. There are lots of scholarships available to help supplement the costs. While I know you may feel tired from filling out applications and writing essays, now is not the time to slow down. The perfect mix would be to apply for a combination of smaller $250-$500 scholarships, as well as larger ones that are $1,000 and more. The more you apply for, the better chance you’ll have at securing funds for your college tuition. I recommend applying for at minimum FIFTEEN scholarships. However, applying to 20 to 25 scholarships would really show your commitment to getting to college and not having to worry too much about financial assistance. Remember, every dollar adds up.

Here are some basic tips to keep in mind:

1. Create a professional email address

Don’t forget to create and use a professional email account. For example,,, or are all variations of my name that look professional. You can add middle initial or middle name if your preferred name is taken.

2. Apply for national, statewide and local scholarships
A great place to start is College Greenlight, which matches your personal profile with a list of national and regional scholarships. For local scholarships, check with your campus’ College & Career Center, local media websites, and community pages. Most local scholarships tend to come from individual/family donors as well as local organizations, such as the Rotary Club, Women’s Club, Elks Lodge, and Alumni Associations.

3. Apply to as many scholarships as possible
The top two things that increase your chances of securing several scholarships are: (1) Applying to scholarships that require more work AND (2) applying to scholarships with smaller award amounts. Why? These two types of scholarships often cause THOUSANDS of dollars to go unclaimed every year. For example, students overlook smaller scholarships because the ones with larger amounts are obviously more appealing. However, smaller scholarships tend to have fewer applicants. Remember, those “small” scholarships can be used to pay off important items such as health insurance, books and even bus passes for daily commutes. Also, those applications that require a portfolio, long essay, or additional media examples tend to be seen as more “work” by so many students that the several who do submit a completed application have a much higher chance of winning!

4. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Your College Application Content
Many high school students don’t realize that they can recycle parts of their different college application essays to use in their scholarship applications. Reduce your workload…you do not have to start from scratch. Reuse by taking a second glance at your Personal Insight Questions (used for University of California applications) or your Personal Statement (used for the Common Application) and select the parts that best reflect your personality. Recycle by mixing and matching content from different college applications if you have to, just make sure to tie them together well and make sure you’re answering the scholarship question at hand.

5. Back to basics
Proofread for grammar, don’t use quotes/cliché statements, double-check to make sure you have met all of the requirements, stay under the word limit, and do not wait until the last day to submit! (Technology is amazing, but a large amount of visitors on the day of the deadline might cause a website to crash).



Where to Look for College Scholarships

Like so many other students thinking about going to college, I too worried about the price tag that would come along with a college education. With the cost of attendance, books, housing, and transportation, the cost of college can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Many families may think it’s impossible for their child to go to college because they can’t afford it, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. There is money to be found for help with tuition, housing and general expenses, especially for many Hispanic students.

Aside from financial aid in the form of student loans, there are other resources available including grants, work-study programs and scholarships. The secret is knowing when and where to look, especially for scholarships.

It’s never too early to start your search. The key to finding scholarships is to do your research. Starting your search in the first two years of high school will give you a strong head start in knowing what types of scholarships are out there. Students who start too late sometimes find that they’ve missed out on significant opportunities. You want to start early and look for scholarships that are closely tailored to your academic strengths, your interests, and any extra-curricular activities that you may be involved in. You can also focus on scholarships at the specific colleges where you think you’ll be applying for admission.

There are generally two ways in which scholarships are awarded:

  • One is “Merit based,” which is based on the academic performance and talent of the student, and the other is
  • “Need based,” which is determined by household income.

An important thing to look for when doing your research is to find out what the pre-requisites are for each scholarship application. Some common requirements include submitting your resume, letters of recommendation from teachers or professionals who you’ve worked with and providing written essays. Other pre-requisites may be describing what type of extra-curricular activities you’ve been involved in and giving examples of community service that you’ve participated in.

An excellent source of scholarship information is available to you right on your own high school campus – the College and Career Center.

Make an appointment to speak with an advisor. They can tell you where to find applications for college scholarship programs and can give you both regional and local resources that are available to students in your local area and community. Organizations that offer scholarships often work together with advisors so that they stay abreast of the most current and important scholarships available.

If you’re a senior at El Rancho High School, you can check in at the College and Career Center where you’ll find one program that specifically assists high school seniors with college planning and guidance in applying to scholarships. The Be A Leader Senior Boot Camp program provides students with a detailed and easy to navigate “support system” during the scholarship and college application process.

Another great resource is attending college fairs on campus. Several colleges come out to the high school every year and give information to students and parents about the admissions requirements for attending those colleges. This is a great way to talk to people from each college and university and to make a contact with someone from those schools. You can later follow up with that contact and ask where you can find more information about scholarships for their school.

Organizations outside of campus like the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, offer events and information sessions for families as well. There, you can learn about college enrollment, financial aid, and scholarships and learn how to apply for each.

Of course, in this day and age, one of the best ways to look for scholarships is going online and using scholarship search engines like and These sites have scholarship information based on your strengths, interests and skills. Both Latino College Dollars and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund list scholarships specifically offered to Latino students. At the Hispanic Scholarship Fund site,, high school students, college undergraduate students, and graduate students can all search for scholarships.

Reach out to your school advisors and use the many resources available at your school that have been set up to help you succeed. Working together with your advisors and parents, you’ll be well on your way to applying for scholarships that may already have your name written all over them.

Here is a recap of the best scholarship search tools:

Everything You Need to Know About Scholarships

Finding and applying for scholarships may seem confusing, even overwhelming at times. Yet, the more you prepare and apply for, the more likely you may be able to pay for a significant amount of your college education with free money! Here you will find more information about what makes a scholarship different than a loan or grant, where to find scholarships and their requirements, as well as debunking the myths behind scholarships.

Read the full report

The Real Cost of College

The “real” cost of college may surprise you. Did you know that taking extra time and credits to earn a degree will cost you a lot more money, thus, making college less affordable?

Research shows that the longer students are enrolled in college, the more they will pay for tuition, fees, living expenses, books, and other education-related expenses. Taking your time in college also affects your professional earning potential, because you’re not in the workforce. This information will offer tips on why college is important and how to maneuver through that is cost-effective for you and your family.

Read the full report

Types of Loans to Pay for College

There are many ways to afford college, including Financial Aid, Scholarships and Loans. Your family’s circumstances and preferences will help determine what funding options are the best fit for your situation. It’s important to explore and compare the eligibility requirements, interest rates, costs and fees, repayment options, and monthly payments of the financing programs you’re considering. This presentation covers the following ways to afford college:

  • Types of Financial Aid
  • Types of Loans
  • How to Estimate Your College Costs
  • Deadlines
  • 529 Savings Plan
  • Helpful Tools & Resources

Read the full report