Ben Kaplan Shares Tips for Scoring College Scholarships

The following post is sponsored by Dr Pepper

Ben Kaplan gives you his highly successful game strategy to win at the scholarship game! 

What inspired you to start the website City of College Dreams?

My ultimate goal was to be successful and attend a top university. However, like many Americans, my family was a bit strapped for cash. I was able to realize my goal – and ultimately my dream – by winning enough scholarships to attend Harvard for free.

After having gone through this path, however, I realized that the process itself was way more complicated and tedious than it needed to be. I decided to create the websites CityofCollegeDreams.org and BenKaplan.com to give others a head start – basically to use all the knowledge I had gained from forging my own path to Harvard and finding scholarships. I wanted to give others the tools and resources that I used. My course over at BenKaplan.com, ‘How to Go to College Almost for Free: The Ultimate 8-Week Scholarship Course,’ does a great job at  providing valuable information students and families need in their search.

What was the “aha” moment in your own life, when you realized you could find ways to finance your education?

That moment when I started winning all of these scholarships would definitely be that moment. That was the second when I realized that many financing opportunities existed and that they were more accessible than I had previously thought. The scholarships are out there – it’s just a matter of having the right tools to search and apply for them.

A well-aimed scholarship search has the same monetary value as an entire year or more of working a full-time job. This is huge for students to keep in mind.

What do you think is the biggest misconception most families have when it comes to paying for college?

They think that they have to bear 100% of the burden. It may be the case that not everyone can go to college completely for free, but it is equally true that there is help out there – for everyone. Additionally, a lot of families think that scholarships don’t apply to them for various reasons, or that they won’t qualify. This is a huge misconception.

Many students also mistakenly believe that you need amazing grades or star athlete skills to win a scholarship.  But the truth is that tens of thousands of scholarship providers all reward different things.  For example, the Dr Pepper Tuition Giveaway offers a chance to win tuition prizes worth up to $100,000 just for submitting a 60-second video about how a college education will help you change the world.  

That’s more than $1,600 per second, for you math majors!

How early should students start looking for and applying for scholarships?

The earlier the better. Even if students are not necessarily applying to scholarships right away, it is never too early to begin preparing and putting oneself in the best possible position to succeed in the scholarship game. There are scholarships available for middle school students, so families can begin much earlier than they expect.

What are some uncommon or often overlooked avenues of financial aid?

There are scholarships to fit everyone, and they are sometimes surprising. Almost anything about a student’s identity, academic performance, aspirations, or extracurricular activity can yield a scholarship, somewhere.

You’ll discover that you’re eligible for more scholarships than you probably think if you seek out scholarships from corporations, foundations, community organizations, and professional associations (in addition to those from individual schools and the government).  To see what you might be eligible for, use my free Scholarship Search Worksheet.  And don’t forget to search free Internet scholarship databases, your school’s scholarship office, and even the scholarship web pages of other schools in your community.

What advice would you give parents when it comes to financing their children’s college education?

Encourage students to aim high with scholarships – apply to a wide variety of scholarships, even if it seems like it may be a long shot. Also, be sure to take this process seriously – searching for scholarships should be encouraged as a viable activity akin to a job (scholarships, after all, can turn out to be far more rewarding than a minimum-wage high school job). At the end of the day, students should structure their extracurricular lives intentionally as well – sports, activities, and community service can work wonders in the scholarship game.

What’s the most rewarding story you’ve heard from a person who was helped by your advice?

Wow, I don’t think I could choose just one story. Every week, I get e-mails from students and parents who have succeeded in winning scholarships and it’s what gives me the energy to work so hard for this cause. There’s the student in West Virginia who started taking my online scholarship course and won $2,500 from the very first scholarship to which she applied. There’s also the student in San Diego who received over $35,000 in scholarships and was the first in her family to ever attend college. And of course, there’s the student in South Carolina who won $143,000 even though he at first believed that he had no hope of winning. I truly believe that there is a scholarship out there for everyone!

Finally, what are your top five tips for students who want to be financially savvy?

1. From the moment you take a student loan, you’ve got to have a plan to pay it back.

2. Don’t spend money you don’t have.

3. Realize that your credit score is like your financial GPA. It’s easier to keep it from getting low than to raise it later.

4. Scholarships = Freedom. Instead of taking a job you don’t want just to pay back your loans, you’ll be able to work on things you really care about.

5. The best way to master the scholarship game is to learn from those who play it well.

More Information: Dr Pepper has a long history supporting college football and will once again be giving Dr Pepper fans a chance to win free tuition through the Dr Pepper Tuition Giveaway. This year, we’re giving away four grand prize scholarships during halftime at the Dr Pepper ACC Championship, the Big Ten Championship, the Pac-12 Championship and the SEC Championship. For more info about the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway, please visit DrPepper.com/Promotions

Please find out more info about scholarship expert Ben Kaplan at CityofCollegeDreams.org and BenKaplan.com

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