How to get college scholarships (even if you’re not a genius)

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Jocelyn Paonita says she was an average high school student. No outstanding test scores or talents. “The furthest thing from an athlete,” she says with a laugh. Yet, she secured herself more than $125,000 in scholarships to college — so much that she actually received a check each semester!

In this Facebook interview, she shares with me how she has helped families secure more than $1 million in scholarship funds, mostly for “so-so” students. Below are some of her best tips, which you can get plus much more in her free webinar here.

What I love about Jocelyn is that she is smart as shit, and she is totally real. Her program is the only one that I know of that focuses on preventing student debt, instead of paying it off. Brilliant. She has no patience for scams or short-cuts and helps hard-working families like yours and mine avoid gimmicky programs, and get to the real scholarships. But she also helps you save time, with strategies for nailing the scholarship essay and tweaking the same essay multiple times, motivating your student, and finding money that other smart people ignore.

Here are some bits of information from her blog:

What you should do now if you have a 10th or 11th grader

Your FAFSA filed in these years will count towards financial aid when your high school senior applies for college. As such, in the sophomore and junior high school years, the parent should:

  • Avoid withdrawing retirement funds
  • Maximize retirement savings
  • Transfer your child's retirement savings to your account
  • Use savings to pay down debt
  • Open a 529 account
  • Make any planned cash purchases now
  • Jocelyn has a bunch more tips in her webinar. Totally free!

College scholarship interview tips

  • Research the goal of the scholarship
  • Understand the mission of the organization giving the grant
  • Review your essay
  • Practice, practice, practice!
  • Be yourself, and engage the interviewer.
  • Clothes. Jocelyn says: “Dress in semi-formal attire. This can include slacks and a dress shirt, a suit and tie, slacks with a blazer, a somewhat conservative dress, or a blouse and skirt combo.”

How to win scholarships with the right essay format

  • Follow the directions! Don't ignore what they want — and give it to them!
  • Three paragraphs
  • Three to four sentences each paragraph
  • Fonts of 10 or 12 points in traditional fonts including Arial, Calibri, Tahoma, Times New Roman, and Verdana
  • 1.5 line spacing
  • One-inch margins
  • Either indent new paragraphs or don't. Pick a style and stick with it.

Scholarship topic tips

  • Never talk about how your family earns too much to qualify for student aid, and not enough to afford college. “They've heard it a million times,” Jocelyn says.
  • Focus on a topic that will show the judges about your character, motivation and work ethic.
  • Make it positive. Do not focus on low grades or test scores.
  • Describe unique situations or interactions that will stand out. Simply saying you volunteered at a soup kitchen isn't worthwhile. Describing how you specifically helped one family navigate a difficult situation is touching and powerful.
Jocelyn has a whole course that has helped families secure more than a total of $1 million in college scholarships. In her webinar, she describes some of her insights and strategies, including:

Get in the Money-Making Mindset

  • There are only 2 reasons students fail at getting their college paid for (and most aren’t even aware that this happened to them).
  • How hanging out with friends can dramatically increase students’ success rate (and how some students have received more scholarships just from being with their friends.)

College Funding 101

  • The one thing students must avoid, to prevent being buried in debt for life (and the small change that will make all the difference.)
  • The nearly automated way to track the legitimate, easy scholarships (in fact, this single technique saved me 20 hours each semester and takes only 30 seconds to implement.)

The Hunt is On – Uncover Hidden Scholarships

  • The ONE THING to look for to eliminate fake, spam scholarships. (I admit, this secret is a little unique, but if your child follows my instructions, it works like gangbusters to secure tens of thousands of dollars.)
  • Is there a best time to apply for scholarships? (Here's my answer… It may shock you & your student, but this could double the amount of scholarships your child receives.)
  • The ready-for-you cheat sheet to find 30+ scholarships in under an hour.

Heating Up the Application

  • Which is better — Grades or Activities? (Of course, both. BUT, what's not so obvious is that focusing on the most common areas can actually hurt scholarship results. Here's what I suggest doing instead…)
  • The completely un-scientific (yet 100% accurate) way to instantly be seen as the top 1% of applicants for every single application. (It's astonishing how few students do this, yet it actually means less work and even students who have yet to get involved can do it.)

 Perfect the Application

  • Word-for-word, the single most important 500 words to put in your applications. (Many evaluations show this commonly-skipped part of apps can be even MORE important than the essay prompts!)
  • The secret reason why amazing applications are now deleted in MASS today. (And the ONE 15-minute technique to make sure that your child’s application is instantly seen as one of the top candidates.)
  • According to our students, the #1 EASIEST way to write a winning essay they’ve ever experienced. (Believe it or not, your child’s brain WANTS them to write this way… and the judges’ brains WANT them to deliver the information in this exact format.)
  • A neurological discovery that lets even people who have never been good at writing write essays that get read and selected. (This is what lets students who detest writing almost effortlessly secure scholarships.)

Bring the Money In Year After Year

  • The strange thing I did that let me get an additional $13k for my sophomore year (including $5k for studying in Spain), $15k my junior year and $10k my senior year.
  • The 5-minute technique students must do to make sure scholarships are renewed year after year. Students forget to do this and miss out on thousands of dollars that they already won.

Jocelyn has way more scholarship information, and you can learn more here.

Related posts on Wealthysinglemommy on paying for college:

College financial advice for divorced families 

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list. Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

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