By Ryan Cleland

The average American student graduating high school and entering college will receive between $1,000 and $5,000 in scholarship money, according to Scholarships.com. This money, although unlikely to cover the entirety of a semester’s tuition, is helpful in covering costs such as books and fees, the website said.

As tuitions and fees pile up, students often find themselves taking out loans to finance their college bills. In 2020, Forbes reported the national student debt was $1.6 trillion, with Georgia as the state with the fifth most student debt.

The necessity for scholarships in America is evident as a way to reduce the need for loans. The main issue, however, is not how to find scholarships, but how to win them.

Diana Ha, a third-year biology major at Georgia State University, has a wealth of experience when it comes to winning scholarships.

“I accepted the First Generation Coca-Cola Scholarship and became a part of the scholarship’s cohort for the class of 2018. I also accepted many local and some state scholarships near the end of my senior year in high school,” said Ha.

The Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship provides $5,000 for recipients on the Atlanta campus of Georgia State and $2,500 for recipients for those attending the Perimeter College like Ha did for two years.

The recipients must not have had parents or siblings who attended college. Ha said she had no resources within her family to understand the scholarship process, but handled it herself.

“I filled out all of my applications myself and contacted my teachers and counselor for any recommendations and forms I needed from their end,” said Ha.

With the amount of money at stake when it comes to scholarships, Ha noted that it’s worth it to take the time to look for these opportunities.

“Create a plan for yourself! It can be hard juggling different applications and forms at once and when in doubt, just apply,” Ha said.

Ha said she was inspired by the Wayne Gretzky quote, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” She also encouraged applicants to highlight individual achievements to make themselves more appealing in the selection process.

For scholarships requiring essays, Ha suggested creating one’s personal statement by sharing their own story.

Ha noted organizations awarding scholarships want to know who is receiving the money and why they need it. She said applicants should express who they are and why the scholarship money should go to them.

Ha said scholarships with required essays have more specific qualifications and are often more rewarding than those that are awarded to applicants for having blue eyes or being tall. Some students need assistance with writing the essays.

Felicia Shanklin, a career and relations expert for Georgia State University’s Newton and online campuses, helps with this process.

“I believe that once a student finds a scholarship they want to apply for, they have trouble with the financial and writing sections. They don’t realize how detailed they need to be in these areas to show their need,” Shanklin said.

Shanklin emphasized students should start early when looking for scholarships and remain patient.

Ha’s success in winning scholarships is a testament to the advice both she and Shanklin provide for prospective students.

“Whether it is a small local scholarship or a big national scholarship,” Ha said. These are achievements you have made that commend you for working hard.”

Ryan Cleland is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.