How My Daughter Won a $500 Scholarship



15 minute read.


I have a fascinating story to tell about something that happened to my daughter not too long ago. She recently won a scholarship for writing an essay, which was super exciting to hear! But the story of how and why this happened started much earlier, and took us all by surprise.


Let me take you back two years ago. In 2015, my wife, daughter, and I were invited to attend the annual scholarship award ceremony at the local high school. My daughter was about to graduate, and we knew she had been chosen to win something, but we didn’t know what or how much.


I remember having a feeling of such dread walking in there, and not knowing whether my daughter would receive anything that made a significant difference to her college bill or not. Whatever happened, we didn’t want to walk out of there disappointed.


My hope was that she would maybe get $1000, possibly as much as $2000 total in scholarship money. Whatever we could get was fine with us, but we knew the competition was fierce. She had a great academic record, and worked hard in sports and band during her whole high school career. But I didn’t think she would qualify for anything like a full ride.



A Painful Reality About College Tuition


I just knew that her total college bill would be somewhere in the neighborhood of at least $64,000, even for a State university, and that was just for undergrad tuition! She was in competition with dozens of other students from her class who’d also been invited to the awards ceremony. There was only so much money to go around.


By the end of the evening, we learned that she had only been awarded $700. It was for a President’s award from the school she was planning on attending. After that, we thought “Well, I guess $700 is better than nothing.” But secretly, I was crushed. My heart sank knowing how much we’d have to pay over the next 4 years, and my wife was not feeling good about it at all.


I’m sure other parents were feeling and thinking the same thing that night “How am I going to pay for my child’s college education?” There was an unmistakable air of doom and gloom that hung so heavy and thick in the school auditorium that night, you could slice it with a knife. People were there for one thing only, to compete against each other for scholarship award money.


Fast forward to October 2016. My daughter is now a Sophomore in college, and my son has just started his senior year in high school.


This is where the story gets really interesting.


Ever since my daughter started college in the Fall of 2015, it’s been a roller coaster ride to say the least, trying to get her tuition paid on time while trying to wrangle our other finances, raise our children, pay the bills, and still be able to eat, and have a decent quality of life.


I got sick of trying to make ends meet with just my salary. The thought of college expenses loomed over my head day and night, putting stress and pressure on everything else. Besides, my son was also going to graduate soon from high school, and he would be facing the same issues.


I thought “There has to be a better way to pay for college. I have to do something about this now!”


That’s when I began looking for books, guides, and other resources on how to pay for college without taking out loans or draining my savings and retirement accounts.


I found a bunch of resources pertaining to scholarship searches, how to pay for college, and stuff claiming to be the best tips and tricks. I read a book by Zac Bissonnette called Debt Free U, and also a book called Confessions of a Scholarship Winner by Kristina Ellis.


They were okay, but what they wrote mostly about was either general information on different ways to pay for college, or they told stories about themselves and things they did. They didn’t exactly have actionable steps or a complete system that anyone could use.


So I started to take a serious look online for advice on how to find scholarships for my kids. I also read books by authors who provided scholarship lists and directories, but they were just long lists to sift through and there wasn’t really any guidance.


That’s when I stumbled on The Scholarship System by Jocelyn Paonita.


At first I thought, “This is just a scam like all the rest! This stuff doesn’t really work. It’s just old rehashed information from decades of the same tired old stuff you see, like on late night infomercials.”


But then I went to Amazon, and read the reviews of her book. I was fascinated by what I read, but I did not buy the book. I went to her website and thought it wouldn’t hurt to subscribe to her mailing list. Soon after that, I signed up and got an email to attend her free webinar, where she shared a lot of great detailed information.


scholarship system


Then I downloaded her free resource guide on writing essays, started reading her blog posts, and also downloaded her Scholarship System workbook. I started getting regular notifications when new posts were published and when she released special offers. Her blog articles were highly engaging and extremely helpful.


I immediately passed on the blog article links and PDF guides to my son and daughter.


She talked about things like keyword searches I was not aware of, how to write essays in a specific format, what to watch out for on the FAFSA, when to apply for scholarships, and specifically what to focus on early in your high school career to make your scholarship applications more appealing to businesses and foundations.


Some of this stuff I knew already, but much of it was completely new, and some things I had never even thought of before. I was not only able to learn new methods and techniques, but also confirm what I already knew. I thought, if her free stuff is this good, just imagine how good her book and online course is!


I kept getting regular emails and reading her blog posts when suddenly I received an email from her that said “I’m making a special offer available to you. Download my action guide and I’ll give you my audio book for free.”


By this time, it was in November 2016, and I’d been searching for scholarship guides and tips for months. I thought “Whoa! I have to listen to this!”


I listened to the book in its entirety, and then immediately emailed the link to my daughter at college. Now, as busy as my daughter is, I thought there was no way she would have time to listen to this book. I mean she has a full class load every semester, is highly involved in Cross Country and Track and Field, AND works a part-time job at the campus coffee shop to help pay for tuition and expenses.


I never heard back from her by phone or email, and had no idea if she even looked at the scholarship resources I sent. So I just assumed she was too busy, and wrote it off. I didn’t want to bug her about it if she didn’t have time.


Then my son and I made a point to sit down together and listen to the whole book. Along the way, we stopped at specific spots to review main points and things that stood out as extremely valuable, in addition to taking lots of notes on new tips we learned.


This is all leading up to what happened with my daughter next.


Fast forward to February 2017. A couple of weeks ago, my daughter called me from college and said she won a $500 scholarship! My first reaction was “Wow, that’s amazing!” How coincidental that my son and I were working on the exact same thing. My next question was “How did you do that?!”


Then she told me she remembered some tips that she’d learned from the audio book I sent her. She was talking about The Scholarship System. Here I thought she dismissed the whole thing and didn’t have time to look at it. Apparently it intrigued her enough to check it out. Later she told me that she was listening to it on her smartphone during slow stretches at the coffee shop. I thought, wow cool!


She said she remembered the part in Chapter 3 where Jocelyn said “I highly suggest going to your guidance office and asking to see any scholarships they are aware of. I think you will be surprised at how many there are. If you are already in college or once you get to college, you can do the same thing with two different offices. One is the Financial Aid Office which services all students on campus and then you should have a counselor specifically designated to your department or major who will know of even more scholarships. Make sure you talk to both offices to find out about potential scholarships.”



The Gold Nugget


Because she remembered hearing this particular passage in the audio book, it must have planted a seed in her brain that she should check every so often for scholarships. She already knew about the Financial Aid Office. That was the most obvious place to look.


But what she didn’t know before listening to the book was that she needed to check with her program director. She only knew about this particular scholarship because she made a point to stop in and ask! This was the gold nugget she needed.


Here is a quote from my daughter that she wrote in an email to me: “I stopped in to see my program director and she told me the school was offering a scholarship essay contest for students taking liberal arts classes. I don’t even have a Liberal Arts major, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway. They sent me a PDF with a link on where to sign up, and I just followed the directions from there.”


Here was the scholarship application:


liberal arts



How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay


She also remembered reading the document that I sent to her back in November 2016 that talked about Jocelyn’s 3 Steps to Writing a Winning Essay. This was the PDF titled “Resource Guide: The Only 3 Steps You Need to Write a Scholarship Winning Essay QUICKLY.


The most fascinating part about this whole story are the conditions my daughter was under while trying to write the essay. She was at an indoor track meet with noise all around her, typing away madly on her iPad, while only having 3 hours of sleep the night before.


Here is the first page of her scholarship essay:




And it goes on for 4 pages. This essay was really good for someone who was running on almost no sleep and distracted by a crazy amount of noise at an indoor college track meet. She also wrote the essay on the day of the deadline because she only recently found out about it. She submitted her application only hours before it expired. Talk about a close call!


The point of this whole story was to show that my daughter was not a scholarship expert. She wasn’t even looking for scholarship opportunities, especially after she started college. But because she listened to The Scholarship System audio book and looked at the worksheets, she had a better idea of what to do and had more confidence to do it, despite the fact that she was lacking sleep and concentration, and under an enormous amount of pressure.


I am not getting paid to say any of this. This is just how it happened, and I’m writing about it because I want to let you know that The Scholarship System works!


You may notice on the scholarship application image I posted on this page that the winning recipients are to be notified in Spring 2017 and recognized in April 2017. In this case, she was notified early of her award which was an added bonus for me, because then I didn’t have to wait until April to write about it.



The Future Now Looks Brighter


My son is now taking the example set by his sister, and has recently found over a dozen relevant scholarship applications, using Jocelyn’s awesome search techniques. He is now in the process of writing essays and gathering requirements for these scholarships, so that he will be fully prepared and able to submit them before the deadlines.


Some of the tips from The Scholarship System that he found particularly useful are:

  1. Writing about his work experiences as a paper carrier, harvester at the local berry patch, and laborer on his Grandparents’ farm.
  2. Writing about his volunteer experiences with cleaning up neighborhoods, helping residents at the local nursing home, and working at local 5K races and track meets.
  3. Describing how being a trumpet player in band has given him a strong work ethic and an outstanding foundation in music education.
  4. Focusing on scholarships that pertain to specific experiences in his life or the lives of his relatives (particularly with his grandmother having Alzheimer’s Disease, and his uncle having pancreatic cancer).
  5. Keeping track of all relevant scholarships in Google Docs, which includes website links, deadline dates, when he submits an application, and the essays he writes.


I can’t wait to see what kinds of opportunities there are for my son and daughter in the next few months. They have a great outlook on the future now that they’ve learned a ton of valuable information for finding and winning scholarships, but especially because they now have the tools they need to do this over and over again.


Best of all, a mountain of stress is now lifted from my shoulders, knowing that my kids are benefiting from this excellent information, and that they don’t have to rely on government loans or financial help from their parents. They now have a plan and they can apply these principles to any number of scholarships out there.


Thank you Jocelyn!


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