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September 27, 2021

How I Won $500k in College Scholarships [w/ Kristina Ellis]

Kristina Ellis

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College is not getting any cheaper. By some estimates, the cost of college is rising at a rate of 8% per year. To combat this rising cost of hiring education, parents and teens need to look to college scholarships. Kristina Ellis is no exception.

While she might not be an exception, Kristina is certainly exceptional. Through hard work, dedication, and creating some systems that kept the process easy, Kristina earned $500,000 in college scholarships!

Because the cost of college weighs so heavily on many families, we knew we had to sit down with Kristina Ellis to get her to share the details of how she got it done and to dispel some myths about scholarships as well.

Using Scholarships to Stop College Concerns

Ask any young family what worries are on their mind, and you won't have to listen long before someone mentions the cost of college. Many families start saving money for college fairly early on. They might use savings accounts for small amounts of money. Other families might prefer 529 savings plans in the hopes that compound interest can do some of the heavy lifting.

Even with a healthy chunk of change sitting in a 529, there's a good chance that there's a shortfall in the amount you have saved and what college costs. After all, the figures that college calculators project are definitely jaw-dropping. So how do you make up the difference between what college is supposed to cost and what is reasonable for your family to afford?

College scholarships are definitely one way to do that! So we turned to one of the experts. Kristina Ellis scored half a million dollars in scholarship money and attended her dream school. Now that she's graduated, she is eager to help others find similar scholarship success.

How Kristina Ellis Got Started with Scholarships

When Kristina Ellis was a freshman in high school, her mom sat her down and said she needed to find a way to cover her bills after high school. While Kristina and her mom hadn't yet crafted the perfect plan to do so, they both knew something about scholarships. So Kristina says she and her mom made it a mission to learn all they could about the scholarship process.

They read books, combed through magazines, and tried to learn from other people. Kristina recalls the scholarship application process feeling like a part-time job by the time she got to her senior year of high school.

Still, Kristina didn't consider any other options. Kristina says that she didn't really understand the concept of student loans, so she believed that college needed to be paid for upfront. That belief and her mom's relentless encouragement helped Kristina press on.

How to Find a College Scholarship

If you're like Kristina Ellis, you're thinking college scholarships sound like a good idea in theory. But you might be unsure of how to get started. Kristina says that's exactly how she felt in high school, too.

She spent time scouring different online college scholarship databases as a jumping-off point. Some databases include Scholly, Fastweb, and College Board Scholarship Search. You can use the database to filter millions of options. Then, you're left with contenders that you might qualify for.

In addition to using scholarship databases, Kristina suggests also using a good ol' Google search. You can search generally for college scholarships. Later, you can search again using different categories or locations or other qualifiers to make sure that the college scholarship databases didn't leave anything out.

Kristina Ellis's Tips on Scholarship Categories

One thing Kristina is quick to point out is that there is a scholarship for seemingly everything. When most people think of college scholarships, two things come to mind: academics and sports.

But Kristina says the list of scholarship categories might surprise you. Some possible college scholarship categories include:

  • Hair color
  • Height
  • Handedness (lefties, we're looking at you!)

That's why Kristina Ellis says that one of the best ways to start the scholarship process is to actually make a list of all the different characteristics, qualities, and accomplishments you can name about yourself. Then, you can compare this list to the different results in college scholarship databases.

Starting the Scholarship Process

While the scholarship process is long, it isn't all daunting. Kristina confirms that the scholarship process does get easier as you go along.

As with many things, starting the process is the most difficult part for many scholarship applicants. Completing the first application requires you to consider every aspect of the past four years of your high school career. In addition to tallying up your different achievements, you also often have to write an essay and obtain recommendation letters. 

Still, Kristina points out that it is worth persevering through the first application. Afterward, you can start to repurpose applications and essays, tailoring them to fit other applications, instead of starting from scratch. You can also reuse the same recommendation letters. 

Though it isn’t quite as simple as copying and pasting, every scholarship application after the first one does get a bit easier. That’s why Kristina Ellis encourages applicants to make their applications and essays strong from the start. 

The Right Number of Scholarship Applications

How many applications should you complete? Kristina says this really varies. She completed over 50 applications herself and knows of other students who filled out hundreds. Of course, some people only complete a handful of applications. That's OK, too.

It is important to cast a wide net. But Kristina cautions that you also want to go deep by submitting high-quality applications instead of dozens that only scratch the surface of who you are.

More Advice from Kristina Ellis

Kristina says that it's important that students (and their families!) don't stand in their own way. Many times, the scholarship process seems overwhelming and time-consuming. She says that students often wonder if the work is worth the reward. As a result, many students don't bother to apply for many–or any!–scholarships.

Another thing to avoid is to sell yourself short. Some students feel just because they aren't top athletes or don't have the best grades, they won't win scholarships. Kristina shares that wasn't her experience at all. She says that she had great grades, but not the best. As her story shows, you can earn scholarship money–and lots of it!–for those grades and many other things as well.

The cost of not applying can mean leaving hundreds, thousands, or in Kristina's case, half a million dollars on the table!

Final Thoughts on Scholarship Success and Kristina Ellis

It's easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to affording higher education. That's because there is no denying the astronomical sticker prices that come with most college and university tuitions.

However, by using some of the different scholarship strategies that Kristina Ellis shared, you can help make the cost of college more manageable. In fact, you might even help your child graduate student loan free! What a financially powerful way to reshape your family tree.

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Guest Bio – Kristina Ellis

After winning $500,000 in scholarships and getting into her dream school, Vanderbilt University, Kristina set out on a quest to help students have similar or even greater success.

She’s the best-selling author of Confessions of a Scholarship Winner and How to Graduate Debt-Free and creator of the site CollegeNinja.com.

Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets, such as Fox & Friends, The Katie Couric Show, CBN, USA Today, Reuters, Seventeen, and Money. She’s helped thousands of families nationwide navigate the complex waters of college finance and graduate debt-free!

Kristina Ellis Resources

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Are you interested in finding college scholarships?  Do you like the advice from Kristina Ellis?

Please let me know in the comments below.


Andy Hill

Andy Hill is the award-winning family finance coach behind Marriage Kids and Money - a platform dedicated to helping young families build wealth and happiness. Andy's advice and personal finance experience have been featured in major media outlets like CNBC, Forbes, MarketWatch, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and NBC News. With millions of podcast downloads and video views, Andy’s message of family financial empowerment has resonated with listeners, readers and viewers across the world. When he's not "talking money", Andy enjoys watching his kids play soccer, singing karaoke with his wife and watching Marvel movies.

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