Write Bigger Series: Resources for  College Bound Students 


College Scholarships: How to compete and win a $275,000K Scholarship

Meet Tori. She’s not your average high school senior. She’s not your average young woman. Let’s face it. Tori isn’t average in anything. 

Tori isn’t just a top student at her public high school—she’s also an award-winning rock climber. As the 8-time regional champion and ranking nationally in the top 10 three times, competing is a regular part of Tori's life.

She's not only sought out higher ground in sports but also high stakes issues, where she’s become a local leader. For the last two years, Tori has led her high school’s SAFER program, to educate her peers about sexual consent and sexual violence.

She’s collaborated with partnerships with Oregon Student Voice and the Oregon Attorney General to bring sexual assault response training to youths. When it comes to social justice, equity, advocacy—or probably anything—Tori is the fighter you want on your side.

Part of Tori's scrappy charm comes from the way she persists even when she's afraid, a topic she wrote about in her admissions essay when she tells the story of panic and anxiety the first time she led a school assembly for SAFER. While her essay begins with uncertainty, it covers the confidence and courage gained when pursuing something you deeply value even when you don't feel ready.

This spring Tori found herself in the very position a highly capable and brave student deserves, except this time, it was universities fighting over her. With acceptances to schools like Northwestern, Georgetown, Tufts, Emory University, Berkeley, and Barnard, she had a tough decision to make. Unlike some high-achieving students, Tori decided not to apply early decision because she wanted to compare merit aid between programs—a strategy that paid off in tens of thousands of dollars.

Although she received scholarships averaging 20K per year from several schools, her choice became crystal clear, according to Tori, when she was accepted into Emory University’s Scholar Program—one of her top picks—and was offered the Robert Woodruff Scholar Award valued at $275,000. 

Emory University is one of 50 schools according to College Vine who offer a true full ride—full tuition and 100% room and board for four years. College Vine reports these scholarships are generally recruitment tools for students who might enroll elsewhere, which makes them rare and extremely competitive.

While many high-achieving and committed high school students seek Ivy league or name brand school acceptances, families who want to save money might do well to research programs with full scholarships to discover if existing programs match their interests and to ensure they're not leaving money on the table. In Tori's case, it's not just the $275,000 she's saving but the tens of thousands of dollars that come with student loan repayments.

When I asked Tori if she had advice for future college bound students, she said,  “Be confident in yourself." Tori, a self-proclaimed queen of second guessing, found that writing multiple essays kicked up self-doubt rather than curing it. She even admitted that despite already vetting her common application topic with me, she still wasn’t sure it would turn out a winner. “Secretly, I was writing a whole other essay because I was doubtful my topic was a good idea,” she laughed. "I did all that extra work for no reason at all!"

In the end, she wants other students to know you can trust yourself, especially when you’ve already made sure you’re on the right track. She noted that writing all of her admissions essays did eventually give her a compelling benefit: the ability to tell her own story and how to add her personality to it. 

Not every student will have colleges fighting over them like Tori, but the ones who do will be no stranger to competition. On a final note to future college applicants, Tori reminds them to not only look for schools with scholarship money but "places where you appreciate the quality of life—a place where you can really be happy.” 

Victoria Payne

Victoria is a writer, story coach, and author of Write Big: From College Application Essay to Storytelling Standout. She's helped hundreds of students find their voice, gain admission, and win scholarships through her Write Big process. College bound students can learn learn more about how to write like a storyteller and standout in her free training.