How I Did It: I Applied for 100 College Scholarships

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YB4How and why did I wind up applying for 100 scholarships to go to college? For me, it was my goal of living the American Dream.

My mom had dreams of being an architect, but instead worked long shifts sewing school uniforms in a factory; back where we came from, my dad worked in commercial construction. Neither of them had gone to college, and they lived a life of religious persecution and hardship under a communist regime in the Ukraine.

Then, in September of 1999, in the hopes of a better future for their children, they packed all their possessions into three bags and, with six kids under the age of eight at the time, sought refuge in the United States.

In my view, my parents are two of the bravest people in the world, because with that sacrifice—leaving behind family and homeland to move to a foreign country—they gave me a future.

It just wasn’t clear how, exactly, I was going to pay for it. I knew I wanted to go to college and make good on a future that my family risked everything to secure for me, and I knew I had to find a means of financing it.

Today, I am the oldest of ten children and the first in my family to graduate from college. I attended a small, private liberal arts university in the Midwest with an annual tuition to the tune of $20,000 and graduated in May at the top of my class with a bachelor’s degree in finance and economics—with only $4,500 in student debt. Here’s how I did it.

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Where I Found the Scholarships

A few facts: My dad was laid off from his delivery job shortly after I graduated from high school, but even before that we lived well below the poverty threshold for a family of our size.

Since my parents could barely make ends meet at home, I knew it was up to me to find the money to pay for college—tuition, books and other costs like transportation (I didn’t get my own car until a few months into my first semester of college)—while still pitching in for family expenses.

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I always joke that scholarship hunting was my second part-time job in high school (I worked weekends at Krispy Kreme). In scheduling for my senior year, I balanced AP classes with easier classes that left me free time during the day to apply for scholarships.

To stay organized, I used a three-inch three-ring binder—color-coded to keep track of deadlines and different types of scholarships. I also kept a calendar to schedule mailings, due dates and other important milestones.

  • GraysonIP

    Your story is outstanding and inspirational. Many blessings to you.

    • Yelena Bosovik

      Thank you! :)

  • AMK

    Amazing! Thanks for sharing your story and I hope this is just the start of a trail of many more successes for you. No doubt your tenacity and ambition will lead you to achieve great things!!!

    • Yelena Bosovik

      Thank you so much! :)

  • B Bulfer

    Gosh, I read your story this morning and cried…how wonderful and positive you are! Thank you for being the person God intended you to be.

    • Yelena Bosovik

      Awe, thank you! :) God bless you!

  • Mara

    Amazing story! Her hard work and pragmatism is awe-inspiring.

    • Yelena Bosovik

      Thank you. I owe it all to my amazing parents and God though. :)

  • Katheryn

    What a fantastic article! I hope you also give talks to high schools around the country. People love motivational talks but it’s really the “how to” that encourages change. Thank you for sharing!

    • Yelena Bosovik

      Awe! Maybe someday! Thank you for the encouragement though. It means so much to me! :)

  • Kate

    Wonderful story! It’s crazy how similar it is to mine…my parents also did the same thing, moving here from Ukraine around the same time to pursue a dream. I am an only child, so I’m sure it was much easier for me, but I also applied to many scholarships to pay for college and followed a similar path. Best of luck to you and your family!

    • Yelena Bosovik

      thank you Kate! I hope all your dreams and goals come true. :)

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  • Eastwestcoaster

    Great story of perseverance. Thanks for sharing. However, in my case even if I got these scholarships I would still be in a heap of debt. The reason is because my parents made just enough, so I didn’t receive much financial aid in the beginning until graduate school when I could claim myself as an independent. I went to school out of state for most of my years in college and the tuition was about 25K to 50K a year between undergrad and graduate. I ended up having to get private loans in undergrad due to the income my one parent was making, because the other was on disability and no longer able to work. So, this is a great story, but I would be curious as to how much financial aid she got because she qualified for financial aid in undergrad and also did she ever live in a dorm or apartment near or on campus because that tallies up on school costs too as opposed to living at your parents house? Also, in high school I was so busy with academics and playing various sports that I only had time to apply to a few scholarships, that I did receive, but none of which paid for much of my total education costs. Anyways, kudos to her, but as I’ve always said on here, there are different situations for people where these kind of stories might not be possible depending on their situation and in order to get the big money scholarships you either have to have an exceptional SAT/ACT score or be one of the best writers or persuaders in the country, otherwise some of the scholarships only offer very small chunks of money, which add up, but are not even close to the amount of tuition costs these days.

    • Yelena Bosovik

      You’re totally right in that everyone has their own circumstances and ironically because I come from such a poor and disadvantaged background it maybe opened more doors for me than a standard middle class family, but I really do abide by the motto that life is what you make of it. There is nothing wrong with student loans and I’m relying on them to pay for graduate school, but for me they’re a last resort option. I was also extremely involved in high school and I think that added to my resume in applying for scholarships. Also, I chose to live at home during college since my parents lived about 5 miles from school and I had no reason to move out. But, each situation is different, you just have to find what works for you! Thanks for pitching in though and sharing your story. :)

      • Eastwestcoaster

        Congrats! I’m glad to see that you and others are out there trying to make a difference in this country instead of giving up on your dreams. Best of luck with grad school!

    • vballdavid05

      EastWestCoaster, it is your attitude and life choices that determine your success. From your comment it sounds like your choices put you in a tough position, and that your attitude isn’t helping you to get out. I truly wish you well and I hope you’re able to knock out your debt!! I think focusing on the positive things you have going for you, will help more than drawing attention to all the negative.

      • Eastwestcoaster

        I’m just stating reality. I have been through a lot and have overcome a lot to be where I am today and throughout that I have always believed in myself and my capabilities, so it really isn’t an attitude issue, it is more like the tuition/lending system is broken and I think everyone knows it. This is why Obama has made it one of his agenda items to try to improve during his presidency and so far he has made some improvements with federal student loans. There was an article earlier on here stating that tuition has gone up 528% since 1985, which is twice that of healthcare and 4 times the amount of inflation, so there is a problem. Every situation is different when it comes to paying for college tuition and it all depends on what career path you want to take. Mine, just so happened to put me in a lot of debt and I didn’t have much of a choice, I got some academic scholarships, but it was only enough to pay for books and maybe a semester of living on campus, but I am now working for a place that I always wanted to work for in the end and without doing what I did in college, I would never be here or be able to move up the ranks.

      • Eastwestcoaster

        I’m curious did you attend a university out of state or a private university in the past decade? Technical schools and community college were out of my options because of the career path I wanted to take. If you did, you would understand that the choice was either to stay at home and be miserable working at a restaurant and wasting my brain away when I knew that I could make a difference in society by going to college and using my brain to solve some of the most difficult problems facing us today. Unfortunately, the price of tuition is extremely high these days at most colleges, so you will be in some sort of debt unless they offer you a full-ride scholarship. I happen to be in a lot because I went to specialized schools that had some of the best programs and professors in my field, which helped me network to get the job I have today, which is 1,000 times better with more benefits, pay, and satisfaction that I know my work makes a difference to the community than working at Subway or some technical job.

    • LaJacqueReal

      I agree with eastwestcoaster. It is a beautiful story with a phenomenal message but not universally applicable; not necessarily because of “attitudes” or “mindsets” but because of the structure this country has. My mother came by herself as an immigrant so that my sister and I could have better opportunities. Her focus, determination, and stability landed her at a factory where she received good benefits and was able to save for a home and for her retirement. Although my parents were still married my father was away and my mother had to work two jobs to give my sister and I a good upbringing. When I was 14 I wanted to take some of that stress off of her so I started working so she didn’t have to keep working 16 hours a day. Between my job and school work, I was left with no time for extra curricular activities to apply for scholarships. Additionally, due to my mother being responsible and owning a home and technically being married I didn’t qualify for financial aid. I got into a phenomenal business school and commuted out of state daily through public transportation to save on dorming costs. Due to my GPA and SAT scores I landed a $15,000 yearly scholarship but still have a $50k+ student loan debt. I have been blessed with exceptional employment after graduating where I am making what some people make with a master’s degree so I am able to live comfortably while paying my $1,000/month student loan debt.
      So again, beautiful story (almost made me cry) but not realistically applicable to everyone due to individual circumstances, not someone’s perspective on life.

      • Eastwestcoaster

        Thanks for backing me up. I’m not saying that this can’t be done and kudos to her, it is just that it is very difficult when you aren’t a minority or a foreign-related or born person to obtain large scholarship amounts unless you have an exceptional GPA in high school (which I did) and have exceptional SAT scores (which I didn’t because I’m not good at fast-paced testing, but proved this score doesn’t mean much by getting a master’s degree). I got some scholarships that amounted to about $2,000 total when I first went to school, which is peanuts compared to my actual school costs. Like I said between playing football, playing in the school band, running track, and studying hard to get those good grades, I didn’t have much free time to write up letters for scholarship money. Back in the day, it wasn’t plug and chug scholarship finding. I came from the slow wireless/dial-up era of internet, in which it takes much longer to find those types of scholarships than before except for the national ones that every school promotes, but are difficult to earn unless the school thinks you are exceptional.

  • PearlB

    You are a GREAT person… I did the same during college — just not that ‘over the top’ (imagine 100 scholarship applications!!). Your story inspired me to continue scholarship hunting for my postgrad degree. If scholarships can assist me in getting to that, why not take that part-time job, right? :)

    I know God is right there to help you live your dream. Continue to be a blessing to the people around you. :)

    • Yelena Bosovik

      Thank you! Good luck with your postgrad education! :) It’s alway worth looking for scholarships and applying, because what’s the worst that can happen? Someone will tell you no, but at least you tried. Besides, apply for enough and you’re bound to get a few. ;)

  • T

    Wow Yelena, you are an inspiration. Thank you for writing this article and sharing your story! I will send this to other students so they can also be inspired.

    • Yelena Bosovik

      Thanks T!:)

  • Kristine Mears

    I am inspired by your story of perseverance and grit. There are so many educational opportunities in this country for those that are willing to work hard. Congratulations!

    • Yelena Bosovik

      Thanks Kristine! :)

  • safeblonde

    Sorry to burst everyone’s bubble here but if the author was a white middle class kid with some college savings she would have gotten nothing. Stories like this are what college scholarship people live for…the more desperate, the more kids, the more of an immigrant, the more poor, the better the scholarship. Your family has been here four generations and saved a little and is the wrong color ?..forget it!

  • Sophia

    That’s the real American Dream. My family and I immigrated to the US in 1989 from the former Soviet Union due to religious persecution as well and I have felt all the same pressures and privileges. Thank you for telling “our” story and congratulations on your success!

    • Eastwestcoaster

      My ancestors were religiously persecuted from Germany about 400 years ago and then they came over here, so I guess I can slightly relate, but this didn’t help me in the scholarship department.

    • Yelena Bosovik

      Awe. thank YOU for contributing to “our” story! :)

  • Lidiya Bosovik

    Oh my goodness Len, I literally cried while I read this! Thanks so much for setting such a great example for me. Congrats again on such an awesome accomplishment!:)

  • Yllota

    What an amazing and inspiring story! I’ve read every word and also some of your comment replies and I have to tell you: your parents and God may have helped you but YOU made it happen, never forget that. You should be so proud that you took their lessons and made something outstanding out of them instead of crumbling under the pressure of having to be first in class on penalty of losing everything you and your family fought for. That’s not an easy task, and I don’t know you but I’m proud of you.
    Also, applying for scholarships trough essays in a language that is not your native one could be a problem, but after reading your article I can see how you did it. Your english is flawless, impressive for a foreigner, and your writing structured, paced… english is not my first language either so I can appreciate the difficulty of pulling this off, even if you had some years of school in the US.

    • Yelena Bosovik

      Awe! You’re too sweet. Thank you. God bless you! :)

  • Marie

    Wow, beautiful story. All the best to you, Yelena! Keep pursuing your dreams!

  • Sharon

    Hello Young Lady, we could all take lessons from you.

    I would love to have more information about how you found the scholarships to apply for. Most of the info out there requires paying to find the scholarships so I wonder if you could share more of where you found the scholarships. I am getting my degrees very late in life and don’t want to be paying for my education until they bury me. Please send to sharon519@comcast.net or 360-888-5998 cell. Thank you and I feel encouraged and happy for your continued success. Sharon

  • Mardem

    I commend Yelena for her persistence, dedication and hard work in searching and applying for scholarships. However, with one parent unemployed and 10 children, and with good grades from the sounds of it, shouldn’t she have received almost a free ride with a mix of grants and scholarships? I don’t understand why she needed more scholarships when the Govt. would have given her grants like the Pell grant and the school would have provided scholarships that are merit or as-needed based to go to school. Unless because she chose a private school instead of a public university and that had something to do with not getting a full ride? Am I missing something here? Anyway, I agree with her advice to check with the Financial Aid office for scholarships. I am in grad school and already accumulating debt like crazy and I told my advisor I couldn’t afford it (I’m not working due to a disability) and he recommended me for a scholarship which became available last minute. So my advice is to check with financial aid every quarter or semester because you never know what scholarships will pop up that you can benefit from. Good Luck!!

  • Larisa

    I really like this article and I can sympathize because I am from former USSR with a single mother who took out her life insurance savings to help me pay for college; I did get a small scholarship from the school and from my mother’s employer, but in the end, have $100K in debt, I wish I had been this dedicated and resourceful in high school! Congratulations to you!

  • slightly annoyed guest

    Great story and very inspiring! Congratulations!! It’s nice to see all of the different comments, but some are plain whining. Every story will not be applicable to everyone so I don’t know why so many readers expect them to. This girl shared HER experience. Take it for what it is and commend her for her hard work. To sit and complain that you would have liked to apply for more scholarships but didn’t have time, you’re undermining her experience that she has shared. What you did is your business, your priorities were your priorities. She put in the work and she got the results. KUDOS!

  • Sheila Fiske

    Thanks for sharing your story. I have twins that just graduated. They both had over a 3.7 GPA. They applied for many scholarships, and never heard back. It is frustrating. They are taking a gap year to work to get more money for college and to better their SAT scores. I am going to show them your article for inspiration.

    • Jolene

      Sheila. Don’t let them get discouraged! This may be a blessing in disguise. :) Same thing happened to me with struggles during my collegiate year. But down the line, I was able to take advantage of building up a resume of volunteer work and skills as well. This might lead them into an even higher choice of an institution than before! I wish them luck! Inspire them to apply even more and more! Don’t give up!! Blessings.

      • Sheila Fiske

        Thanks Jolene and Congratulations to you! I will encourage them to not give up.

  • Jolene

    Yelena! I APPLAUD you for this! :) Hard work pays off. We are not destined by our circumstances, but by what we do about them. I wish you all the best and prosperity for you and your beautiful family! Girl, write a book too! This is amazing! I ultimate success for your siblings too! AMAZING!