May 4, 2018 was the greatest day of my life because that was the day I graduated from college. I started college in 2014 and, although I was happy to be pursuing my dream, I faced many financial obstacles. When I started college, I did not have any financial support, but I learned how to ask for help, and I was able to graduate with a bachelor’s in accounting with no debt. I want to share how I was able to accomplish this and how scholarships helped me finish school.


What are scholarships and where can I find them?

Scholarships are free money designed to support students, and they are usually awarded based on academic merit, other achievements, or financial need. Scholarships are a smart way to afford college because you do not have to pay them back.

I knew I didn’t have enough money saved to pay for school, so I searched for scholarships on my college’s website, as well as national scholarship databases. I also talked to my mentors, academic advisors, and student support groups and clubs on my campus, such as TRIO. I applied for as many scholarships as I could to support my education, and I received different scholarships based on my grades and leadership. These scholarships covered my tuition and other expenses for my entire bachelor’s degree. I earned scholarships from the accounting department at my school, community and volunteer organizations, businesses, and private donors.


How can I become a competitive scholarship candidate?

Here are a few of my tips to get scholarships:

  • Keep your grades up. A good GPA shows that you are dedicated to school, and many scholarships are designed to reward that kind of hard work.
  • Write a moving personal statement. Scholarship applicants can start to look the same on paper. Students competing for scholarships may have similar grades or participate in the same extracurricular activities. A good personal statement can help set you apart from other students and can help the scholarship committee understand you better. Make sure to cover your past, present, and future plans, including your leadership skills and your ability to give back to the community.


Scholarships are not just about the money.

Some of the scholarships I was awarded came with mentoring or leadership expectations or required me to participate in programs on campus. These scholarships not only supported me financially, but they gave me the opportunity to connect and make friends from the scholarship programs. For example, I have built a great network with the Opportunity Scholars program at the University of Utah and TRIO Support Services at Salt Lake Community College. These scholarships helped reduce my financial burden and helped me stay focused so I could learn more effectively.


A final thought…

I will be graduating with my master’s in accounting next month, and I wouldn’t have achieved this level of educational success without scholarships.

So, I want all students to know that there are so many scholarships available to help you pay for college. Although scholarship applications involve a lot of time and hard work, I recommend you apply for as many as you can.

With scholarships, I achieved my dream and gained knowledge that has helped me turn my obstacles into opportunities. As Christine Gregoire once said, “Education is the foundation upon which we build our future”. I wish you luck as you build your own future through education.

Maxwell Ayeliya is a master’s student at the University of Utah and a StepUp federal work-study employee