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How This Savvy Student Won More Than $700,000 In Scholarships


Since he started drawing at the age of three, Darrell Andrews Jr. always knew he wanted to go to art school.

But his dream school, the Ringling College of Art and Design, came with a high price tag: $60,480 per year.

Not wanting the opportunity to slip through his fingers, Darrell began applying for scholarships. In the end, his hard work paid off. Darrell wound up with $700,000 in scholarship money.

Now in his sophomore year at Ringling, Darrell shares how he won these awards, along with his advice for other high school students searching for scholarships.

Casting A Wide Net In Your Scholarship Search

When Darrell compiled his college list, he saw what many students and their parents see these days: tuition fees that are higher than ever. In fact, College Board estimates that the average annual fee at a four-year private college is $32,410.

Hoping to avoid taking out a lot of student loans, Darrell kicked his scholarship search into high gear.

“I knew I had to come up with scholarships in order to pay for school,” Darrell says. “The majority of junior and senior year was spent applying for scholarships.”

With the help of his mother, Pam, who now offers college counseling as The Scholarship Shark, Darrell searched online for local and national scholarships. Over time, he applied to 147 scholarships; he won six.

One of the smallest awards came from Ronald McDonald House Charities and was for $2,000. Darrell also won the AXA Achievement Scholarship for $10,000 and the GE-Reagan Foundation Scholarship for $40,000.

In addition to these national awards, Darrell raked in $406,000 in institutional gift aid from the various colleges he applied to, which included the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and the College for Creative Studies.

Although he couldn’t take advantage of offers from colleges he declined, Darrell didn’t need this aid thanks to his biggest scholarship win: the Gates Millennium Scholarship. That award can cover a student’s full unmet need.

“I knew the Gates Millennium Scholarship was a long shot,” says Darrell. “More than 50,000 applications are submitted, and only 1,000 get chosen.”

Thanks to Darrell’s thoughtful application essays, he made it through the selection process and won the full-ride scholarship. He used it to cover his tuition, fees, living expenses, and art supplies.

“I was shocked,” says Darrell. “Once I got it, though, I knew this was meant to be.” Now, Darrell will graduate college without having to worry about paying off federal or private student loans.

Winning Scholarships For Community Service

While applying to more than 100 scholarships will increase your chances of winning, you also have to send off impressive applications. On top of being a strong student, Darrell stood out for his community service efforts.

Darrell started the Superhero Project, a mentoring program where he brought together his passion for drawing and his love of superheroes to empower younger students. He taught cartooning skills while leading discussions on what traits make someone a hero in their day-to-day lives.

“What I wanted to do with my love for superheroes was translate it over to the school system for younger kids,” says Darrell. “We talked about how you can be a hero or role model to those around you. You have ‘superpowers’ of determination, courage, wisdom, and discernment.”

There are a number of scholarships for students who volunteer in their communities. These include the AXA Achievement Scholarship that Darrell won and others like the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes and the Montage Memory Makers scholarship. If you’re active in your community, you could be a strong contender for these types of scholarships.

Make Sure To Talk About Your Five-Year Goals

Besides highlighting his community service efforts, Darrell also focused on his goals for the future.

“It’s important to have a specific and clear goal of what you want to do in five years,” says Darrell. “School is the bridge or connecting gap to your profession. Make sure to talk about what you want to do afterward.”

For Darrell, his career goal is to work as a storyboard or concept artist for a movie company like Pixar. Given his college’s strong programs in illustration and design, he’s confident his education will get him there.

“Scholarship committees want to know that you’re going to be taking all your lessons and studies to heart,” Darrell says. “They want their money to be used for a purpose. They don’t want it to be used in vain.”

Be as specific as possible in your scholarship essays so committees understand what your passions are and what kinds of goals you’re working toward.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help

Darrell put in a lot of time and effort in applying to scholarships, but he didn’t do it alone.

“My mother played a huge role in helping me apply,” says Darrell. “We would both look online for scholarships. Sometimes she would find a new one and tell me to jump on it.”

Although not everyone’s parents will be scholarship experts like Pam, Darrell recommends asking for help in your scholarship search.

“Younger students think they have to do all this by themselves, that it’s all on their shoulders,” Darrell says. “Really, you have tons of people in your corner, especially teachers, who are willing to help.”

Reach out to parents, teachers, and school counselors, and make the most of online resources and scholarship search tools. That way, you can find hundreds of scholarship opportunities that could help you pay for college.

Everyone Should Apply To Scholarships

A common myth around scholarships is that you have to be a top student or star athlete to win. But there are tons of scholarship opportunities, and each has its own criteria.

Some organizations award students for academics or community service, whereas others look for unusual hobbies or traits.

Some colleges also offer merit-based aid. So, ask financial aid offices about institutional grants when you’re compiling your college list.

If you apply early and often like Darrell, you could end up with major scholarship money and financial aid to help you pay for your dream school.

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