Strategic Scholar Podcast

The source for college financial aid strategies. Tips on how to find and apply for scholarships and how to avoid student loan debt.
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Strategic Scholar Podcast



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Apr 5, 2017

In this episode, Nicole Duvall communications director at the American Fire Sprinker Association discusses their annual quiz scholarships.

The application should take less than 20 minutes and winners are chosen randomly. The high school scholarship has about 50,000 competitors and the college scholarship has about 25,000. High School seniors that graduate can apply to both.

Mar 10, 2017

Tackling a lot of scholarships can be very difficult, especially if you have classes and a job. However, I found that batch processing scholarships helps complete the process faster. This means completing several scholarships around a particular theme in an effort to reuse sources.

This episode discusses two very similar scholarships and how batch processing can help complete them or scholarships like them.

Mar 3, 2017 is on a mission to inspire young people to participate in their communities, give back and ultimately make a difference.

In addition to helping students, the organization hosts about 25 scholarships a year. Marissa, who does marketing for the organization offers advice to students working to be great applicants.

“It really comes down to the right intentions,” she said. “We want … to get young people excited to be agents of change. I would say that … the best way to not just win the scholarship but to be a leader in your community and a great volunteer is to just have the right intentions… We want people who want to make a change.” hosts three to five different campaigns with scholarships every month, and participating generally consists of four steps: 

  1. Sign Up on the website for a campaign at The organization will send information related to the mission and how the experience should work.
  2. Next, the issue is explained so applicants can understand the issue the campaign addresses.
  3. org will provide supplies necessary to be successful.
  4. Finally, applicants must take a photo of their action to prove they participated.

After completing all the steps, applicants are entered to win the scholarship.

“We look at all the people who have made it to that next level – the final round – and then we randomly select within that group of people one scholarship recipient,” Marissa said.

The goal of randomizing the selection is to even the playing field allowing students who have communities and families with less resources to fairly compete with individuals that come from areas that have more volunteering opportunities and participation.

“We didn’t want to pick the person who always just had the highest impact,” she said. “We do weight the finalists. It is true the more action you do … The greater likelihood you will be selected, but at the end of the day we are still selecting from the top tier of performers. Nothing is guaranteed, but that is how we decided to work our scholarship process.”

It is important to first sign up, and then complete all the steps in order to be eligible.

Marissa urges students to volunteer for more than just access to funding for higher education, because the work helps

“Paying for college or paying for education is the biggest pain point for young people, and we do want to address that … but it is not the end all be all,” she said. “Here at DoSomething, we really believe that volunteering helps in learning empathy, and being more aware of other people and other situations that you might not be interacting with on a day to day basis.”

Marissa said volunteering opens up doors even more so than a $5,000 scholarships.

Resources to get started:

Feb 17, 2017

This episode explores four common grammatical errors.

1. Passive Voice

2. Split Infinitive

3. Comma after an introductory phrase

4. Avoid prepositions at the end of a sentence.

Regardless of rules, clarity is the overall goal.

Feb 10, 2017

D.J. Nunez, president of IAPMO, discusses strategies for the IWISH scholarship, which is hosted annually. He said he hopes to see quality research and creativity in this year's applicants.

Feb 3, 2017

Mark Kantrowitz, Vice President of Strategy and Publisher at Cappex, discusses student debt, and provides practical tips for students looking to apply to more scholarship opportunities.

“Financial aid is like speaking another language,” he said. “We boil it down to what you really need to know.”

He recommends students to understand the different between the sticker price, net cost and net price.

The sticker price is the total cost of attendance including room and board, textbooks and transportation. This number can be intimidating especially when some universities charge in excess of $60,000 annually in tuition and fees.

In contrast, the net cost subtracts the financial aid costs, but Kantrowitz explains that this number doesn’t always provide the most accurate picture because net cost generally includes student loans. 

“Loans don’t cut college cost, they spread out over time, and they increase costs because they have interest,” Kantrowitz said. “I prefer net price.”

He explains this number is the total gift aid - grants, scholarships or other types of aid that do not require repayment - subtracted from the total cost of attendance. This number could be considered a discount. That net price is what needs to be paid by accessing savings, contribution of current income and contribution of future income. 

“If the net price exceeds the available resources, you are going to struggle to pay for that college,” he said.

The total outstanding student loan debt passed $1 trillion in 2012, and continues to grow. In fact, it is growing at a very steady rate, and Kantrowitz said estimates show that debt will reach $2 trillion in 2022.

Kantrowitz defines reasonable student loan debt as not exceeding the expected total of your first year annual salary. Following that rule of thumb means students should be able to pay back loans within ten years after graduation.

Excessive debt could exasperate the problem for the next generation because parents have limited ability to save.

For parents, they should not exceed their annual income across all children, and they total should be adjusted based on how close they are to retirement.

Generally, students should try to limit their debt to federal student loans, which will limit the borrowing to $27,000.

He lists several tools to determine future earning power. – offers information on starting salaries and a Return on Investment report to show lifetime earning capability. – They break down income into percentiles. – Reports salaries for different occupations. – Links the academic major to income after graduation.

Ultimately, students can look for scholarships to limit debt for free at Kantrowitz explains that the tool helps students efficiently find scholarships. The site also regularly publishes content to help students strategically apply.

The Strategic Scholar Tip:

Kantrowitz tells Strategic Scholars to write your scholarship by first recording what you will say. This will make your essay more persuasive and compelling. After transcribing and editing, he recommends reading your essay out loud and making an “x” after stumbling over any word or sentence. This will help spot common errors and problems with grammar.

Jan 20, 2017

 January 23 marks the first day of individual tax filing season. This is a great time to talk about the two educational tax credits; The American Opportunity Tax Credit (previously known as the HOPE tax credit) and the Lifetime Learning Credit. These two have very different eligibility requirements, and familiarizing yourself with the credits will be beneficial during tax season.

Jan 14, 2017

The new FASFA requires prior-prior year in 2017. This episode we talk about the benefits and disadvantages of the new system. We also discuss tools that make the form much faster.

Jan 6, 2017

One fast route to disqualification is failing to follow the directions meticulously, especially when a scholarship has as many directions as this week's feature scholarship. There are a few things to note as you read the directions such as deadline, demographic, and submission specifications. This episode we discuss strategies related to directions and how to tackle this great scholarship opportunity.  

Dec 29, 2016

Brainstorming is an important, and often overlooked, part of the writing or creating process. It is easy to just run with the first idea rather than explore a variety of options. This episode outlines six brainstorming strategies, and highlights the Frame Your Future scholarship competition.

Dec 22, 2016

This episode discusses five steps to editing essays: reading the content aloud, cutting irrelevant information, analyzing words, evaluating research, and keenly reviewing the introduction and conclusion. This week's feature scholarship is a topic scholarship and it is hosted by expert exchange.

Dec 15, 2016

Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institution and GE host an annual $10,000 scholarship for high school seniors. One component requires applicants to succinctly express career and educational goals. This episode we discuss four steps to conduct in the goal-making process.

Dec 9, 2016

Retention rate is an important number for colleges, and applicants for the scholarship hosted by Transtutors must write an 800-word essay on their perspective on why students drop out, and what can be done to prevent it. Retention rates are based on the number of students who return the the university after the first year or first semester.

This scholarship can be tackled using a variety of strategies including highlighting several different reasons students drop out, conducting an in-depth analysis on one reason or looking at common universities or school-types that have lower retention rates.

Take Action:

1.) Improve research skills by finding quality peer-reviewed sources.

2.) If you are in high school, create a college plan to reduce the statistical probability of dropping out.

The deadline for this scholarship is Feb. 15 and the award is $1,000.

Dec 1, 2016

Every one has busy seasons, but it is important to keep scholarships a priority. Otherwise, it is easy for one week of not applying to a scholarship to turn into two weeks. The goal of this episode is to encourage you to consistently work toward your scholarship goals even while finals are looming ahead.

Nov 17, 2016

There are some fun scholarships out there, and you may be qualified to compete for some pretty interesting ones such as duck calling competitions, dorm waivers for twins, or just writing about how the world would be different without the internet.

Nov 10, 2016

This scholarship is hosted by and is a $1,000 award. The scholarship requires a 1,000 word minimum essay convincing others to volunteer in their communities. This episode discusses strategies on how to write a persuasive essay that will keep the judges engaged and that will flow logically. Again, this episode also continues to emphasize the importance of volunteering for scholarship opportunities.

Oct 27, 2016

GIVA Scholarship is an experience-focused scholarship due Dec. 1. It requires applicants to discuss their dreams, career goals, personal ambitions and how they plan to change the world. This episode discusses how to tackle this scholarship strategically.

Oct 20, 2016

Experience-focused scholarships are all about telling a good story. It is your story that wins scholarships. It doesn't require extensive research like topic scholarships, but it does require reflections and deep thought. This episode features three different experience-focused scholarships all linked with a common theme.

Oct 13, 2016

This episode explores three different topic scholarships opportunities to tackle before the end of the Fall semester. Topic scholarships require research, writing, and editing. The purpose of the scholarship marathon is to encourage students to get out there and start applying.

Oct 6, 2016

Creative content scholarships include graphic design projects, poetry, photography and video. These scholarships can take many hours to complete, and applicants should pursue creative content scholarships that complete strengths.

Sep 29, 2016

The Ultimate Scholarship Book is an annual publication with hundreds of scholarships, but it is worth the time and effort necessary to find scholarships that matter? This episode explores the pros and cons on searching for scholarships in a book format.

Sep 22, 2016

Ted Malone, Financial Aid Director at Purdue University, discusses how income-sharing agreements work, and how students can benefit from the opportunity. Income-sharing agreement is an arrangement to dedicate a specific percentage of a student's income to pay for college rather than to take out a traditional loan.

Sep 15, 2016

This episode explores some common knowledge students learn while at college that they may not understand or know while in high school. It is always better to learn sooner rather than later.

Sep 8, 2016

This episode features Wyatt Hancock who is hosting a cancer care packaging event at his high school. These large events and projects help build resumes and open up new opportunities for high school students and college student. The work also gives young adults experience and stories to share for their scholarship applications and job interviews.

Sep 1, 2016

Handling rejection is an important part of the scholarship process. This episodes features some tools and strategies to keep going even when you keep hearing 'no.'

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