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How to find up to $100,000 in scholarship aid: need money for college? These resourceful scholars show how persistence pays with the gift of education.

FOR AS LONG AS JESSICA JOHNSON COULD REMEMBER, SHE wanted to attend Spelman College. But when it seemed unlikely that her family could afford to send her to the all-women college in Atlanta, she faced having to attend Jackson State Community College in her hometown of Jackson, Tennessee, where her father was a professor. "My mom said, 'If you don't get any [scholarship] money, you'll be going to school with your dad," Johnson recalls. "That was enough motivation for me to get my stuff together."

With the "threat" of going to college with her dad looming, Johnson, 21, had to act fast. She was 16 when a counselor at her local Boys & Girls Club told her about the react Take Action Awards, scholarships for students who are heavily involved in their communities. Only five students in the country would receive the top prize of $20,000 for college. Johnson applied, along with 11,000 other students, and won. That encouraged her to apply for more scholarships. "I was only a junior in high school," she says. "I thought, 'Oh, I can make this scholarship thing work for me.'"

And she did.

By the time Johnson entered her senior year at North Side High School, her choice of college had changed. After learning that Spelman didn't have a school of communications, the budding public relations practitioner set her sights on Howard University in Washington, D.C. Although Howard was less expensive than Spelman, she still had to find a way to pay for the university's $10,000-a-year tuition. She applied for the JCPenney Golden Rule Award and won $500, then received $1,200 in a pageant sponsored by the local chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. And instead of waiting for Howard to come knocking, "I went to the school I wanted to attend and asked what money they had for incoming freshmen," she says. "If you're good enough and they want you, they're going to find a way to get you there." Johnson's 3.9 grade point average and score of 29 on the ACT secured her Howard's Capstone award, a three-year, renewable scholarship, which pays for tuition, fees, and room.

The money was rolling in, but Johnson still had to pay for meals, books, and other expenses. Johnson inquired at large corporations. She won the Discover Card Tribute Award at both the state and national levels and was awarded $17,500. Johnson continued to rack up awards throughout her senior year, and by the time she graduated in 2000, she had amassed more than $100,000 worth of scholarship money. She later launched the Minority Scholarship Quest Program (www, helping parents and their children find money for college. What started out as a free service eventually turned into a money-making enterprise. "I was helping people at church," she remembers. "When [the requests began coming in] everyday, I realized it was a valid business venture."

Johnson left her hometown for college as a local celebrity, but she led the life of a typical freshman at Howard: moving into the dorm, meeting new friends, and adjusting to a new city. But during her sophomore year, a Howard recruiter mentioned Johnson's large amount of scholarship winnings to a reporter from the campus newspaper. The reporter eventually pitched it as a story.

"For a long time, I didn't want people to know how much [money] I got, because I'm humble," Johnson says. But the additional press helped expand her business. "After that, Howard students were like. 'Can you help me?' And my business started growing."

Her business grew so much that she decided to take to the road. For the last two years, Johnson has been giving weekend workshops in cities from Boston to Los Angeles. She charges $300 per workshop for groups of 30 or less, sharing scholarship lists, teaching students how to write essays, and providing tips on saving and money management. Johnson also offers private consultations. Three months of service costs $150.

Today, Johnson is in the process of writing a scholarship book targeting minorities, thanks to a $2,000 grant from Howard. She says her personal experience as a scholarship winner and the book's motivational tone will separate it from others like it. She hopes the book will be finished by May 2004, when she graduates.


According to the College Board, the average full-time student received $7,827 in financial aid during the 2001-2002 school year. But remember, receiving financial aid isn't the same as receiving a scholarship. Jordan E. Goodman, author of Everyone's Money Book on College (Dearborn Trade Publishing; $15.95;, says there's more than $75 billion in scholarship aid available, and he encourages students to begin searching for scholarships online and in books two to three years before applying to college. While universities and colleges also award scholarships, he says they are more likely to award loans to students who qualify for financial aid. "Students say they're happy that they qualified for financial aid," he says. "But financial aid means loans hanging over your head for a good portion of your life."

Fortunately, that won't be the case for Andrea Tieler Giles. The 22-year-old knew she wanted to continue her education after earning her bachelor's degree but wondered where she should begin looking for money. A major resource was right on campus in the form of Florida A&M University's Graduate Feeder Scholar Program, a partnership with 47 universities that reserve at least three admission/financial aid packages for qualified students. The 16-year-old program allows students to pursue advanced degrees in graduate programs that are not available at FAMU.

Giles eventually decided to attend the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. The university's Graduate School awarded her a monthly $1,000 stipend to work as a research assistant. She also received a full tuition waiver, allowing the South Carolina native to attend the university for free.

"I knew there was a way to get funding, but I had no idea that I'd get to go all expenses paid," Giles says, She points out that, "Funding for grad school is different than undergraduate. In undergrad, your grade point average and SAT score can get you a scholarship at your college. In grad school, your grades and test scores aren't going to automatically get you money. The schools are not going to seek you out. Once the money they have to give runs out, it's gone, no matter how qualified you are."


Jamiliyah Gilliam breezed through undergraduate and graduate schools on scholarships and, at 24, is studying for her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago on a fellowship. While stellar grades helped her secure money for college, great connections have always gotten her more.

Gilliam began searching for the right college when she was a sophomore in high school, spending her lunch period at the counselor's office or searching on the Web. She planned to attend a historically black institution, but after discovering that they had few scholarships to offer, she was at a standstill. "I always thought money was going to come," she says. "I was from a single parent home, I worked all through high school, I graduated summa cum laude, but none of that really mattered."

But who she knew did matter.

While at choir practice in her West Philadelphia church, a recruiter from St. Joseph's University came by to talk to students in hopes of luring them to the campus, but Gilliam wasn't swayed. The university offered her a partial scholarship, but that wasn't enough to pay for its $22,000 tuition, so Gilliam called on the Rev. Brodie Mathis of Pinn Memorial Baptist Church, who had long established a relationship between his church and the predominately white, Catholic university. Mathis set out on a campaign, talking to recruiters and financial aid officers on behalf of Gilliam. When he was done, St. Joseph's awarded her $16,000 in scholarships.

"He was my pit bull; he got the money for me," she says. In the fall of 1997, Gilliam began studying biology. But after one semester, she changed her major and enrolled in criminology and sociology classes taught by Patrick Carr. His enthusiasm as a new professor and her desire to explore other majors helped establish a relationship.

Gilliam graduated with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice in 2001 and stayed at St. Joseph's for her master's degree on a full-tuition scholarship from the university's sociology department in return for working as a research assistant for professor Carr. She continued working with Carr on various studies, and when she decided to delay law school and go for her Ph.D. in urban sociology, Carr knew exactly where she should go--the University of Chicago. Her 3.9 grade point average as a graduate student got Gilliam accepted, but financial assistance was another story. Carr and his wife, both alumni of the University of Chicago, reassured Gilliam that she had everything it took to get aid.

The University of Chicago felt the same way. She was awarded a fellowship, which pays the $31,000 tuition, plus a yearly stipend of $17,000. The university also found her a nearby apartment in university-owned graduate housing. For Gilliam, her professors played a big part in helping her enjoy an uninterrupted education. "The entire department at St. Joseph's was very helpful to me," she says. "They made phone calls for me and they knew I was accepted before I knew."


As her undergraduate experience comes to an end, Johnson is on another search: pursuing her master's degree in religion. She already has enough money to pay for her first year of graduate school. And she has no intention of giving up her business.

"My business is my baby," she says with conviction. "There's so much that black parents and children don't know [about scholarships], that I'm going to keep telling my story because I believe it can be done. I don't do this for myself."

11 Tips for Scholarship Hunters

You've heard that there are millions of dollars in scholarship aid out there, so here are 11 moves you can make to cash in on the scholarship gold mine.

* Start Early

Jessica Johnson, who secured over $100,000 in scholarships, says awards are available for students as early as the eighth grade. Dedicate at least three to five hours each week to searching online and in the library. Keep a list of scholarships you find and update it regularly, including the deadlines and required materials. Use your senior year to apply for scholarships, not search for them. Parents should encourage their children to look for scholarships themselves as it gives them a greater appreciation for financing college.

* Get Involved

Despite Johnson's high grade point average and standardized test score, she only received one academic scholarship, while her community involvement helped win most of the other scholarships. In high school, she hosted a teen radio show, wrote columns for the local newspaper, produced television segments for Oxygen Media, and founded an African dance troupe. Johnson says private scholarships are more interested in leadership and community service than academics. "They're giving to the community, so they want to know what you've given to the community."

* Be Specific

Typing "scholarships" into an online search engine can turn up thousands of results, making your scholarship guest long and tiresome. Make your search as specific as possible. Jordan E. Goodman, author of Everyone's Money Book on College (, suggests. "Put in all the obscure information you can: left-handed, Ping-Pong player who wants to attend Georgia Southern University." Being specific will narrow the number of scholarships you appear eligible for.

* Start on the Local Level

Begin looking for scholarships from your place of worship and your parents' places of work. Also, find out what scholarships are available from local chapters of fraternities and sororities one other organizations, such as the Kiwanis Club and the Elks Club. Johnson says most students are unaware of these organizations and the number of applicants can be low, therefore maximizing your chance to win.

* See Your Counselor

Visit your high school guidance counselor frequently to stay informed. Many counselors are also responsible for providing official transcripts for scholarship application packages. Give him or her a time limit to provide your transcript, usually at least a week before the application deadline. For students who must have the counselor send the application, submit your package, complete with all other required materials, at least We weeks before the deadline to give him or her time to add the transcript and send it.

* Beware of Scholarship Scams

Johnson identifies five warning signs that a scholarship may not be legitimate: the scholarship company asks for advanced payments; it has no contact number; it requests a credit card number; it uses a mail drop instead of a return address; and the No. 1 warning sign--it guarantees scholarships. "No one can guarantee you a scholarship," Johnson says.

* Only Send Required Materials

Don't send too much information. It creates a hassle for scholarship committees, and shows your inability to follow directions. "Sending photos and videotapes doesn't help," Johnson says.

* Meet Deadlines

Sending your application in early may give you an edge over other candidates. Try to mail your application no later than two weeks before the deadline. Also, be sure you know whether your application must be postmarked or received by a specific date.

* Don't Rely on Scholarship Search Engines

Goodman recommends that students begin their searches online as most scholarship engines, including FastWeb and Absolutely-Scholarships, are free. However, don't make online searches your primary source for finding scholarships. "It's a good start to know what's out there, but thousands of people sign on to Websites, and they're pumping out the same scholarships to everyone," Johnson says. Add the scholarships you find on these search engines to your list, but continue looking for money in books, from counselors, etc.

* Establish Connections with Professors

Visit the university you plan to attend and establish relationships with professors. One of the main sources of aid for graduate students comes in the form of an assistantship, where the student helps the professor in his or her classes. If professors think you're someone they can work with, they can vouch for you, which could give you a better chance of getting aid.

* Some Scholarship Websites to Check Out
COPYRIGHT 2004 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Personal Finance
Author:Khabir, Naeemah
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2004
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