How 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.
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.
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.