10-minute read.

You may be wondering how to apply for scholarships when you’ve already started college. It seems like most companies reserve the big awards for high school seniors. What about the college sophomores? Juniors? Seniors?

If you’ve been caught up in the rush of homework, exams, or spending more time partying than looking for free money, this blog post may just be the motivation you need to learn how to apply for scholarships and do it right.

Paula Kelly-Frey knows firsthand what it’s like to watch college students and their parents struggle to pay for tuition. It happened to her and her daughter, who’s now a senior at Kansas State University. Paula knew money was tight, and wanted to come up with creative ways to help her daughter have a stress-free college experience. When Alyssa’s first year was nearly paid for by scholarships, ‘Ships Ahoy was a business in the making.

This interview has me particularly excited for my sister, who’s a sophomore in college, to learn how to apply for scholarships with these great tips.

how to apply for scholarships

Paula (far left) with her husband and daughter Alyssa on her high school graduation day. Courtesy of Paula Kelly-Frey.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.
My name is Paula Kelly-Frey, I am a small business owner in Manhattan, Kansas. I went to Kansas State University where I met my husband. Right after college, we bought a sandwich shop called Subs-N-Such right next to the university. We’ve been in Manhattan ever since.

Big family? Small family?
Small family. It’s just us and our daughter, Alyssa.

How did ‘Ships Ahoy happen? Bring me back to the start of it all.
Alyssa was a junior in high school and my husband and I started asking ourselves how Alyssa was going to pay for college, and if we had the means to help her. I wanted her to get a few scholarships to help with tuition, but we didn’t know how to apply for scholarships easily.

Average cost of in-state tuition

Cost of 2017-2018 school year, US News

Average cost of private college tuition

I took an afternoon and went down to the local library. They have a few scholarship books that have upwards of 8,000 scholarships in them. Out of 8,000 scholarships, I only found 50 that she could apply for. I ended up going home and immediately started googling every word I could think of with the word “scholarship” behind it, which sounds crazy. I found a scholarship every single time, even if it was something different than what I thought I might find.

Alyssa sat down between her junior and senior year and started hammering out essays. When due dates came up, all she had to do was tweak them and send them out.

We learned how to apply for scholarships and she applied for nearly 80 scholarships that year. I was hoping she’d get $1,000-$2,000. I was hoping for anything. Then they started coming in. $500 here, $1,000 there. By the time she was getting ready to move to the dorms in August, she had all of her tuition and fees paid for in scholarships, including housing.

Number of scholarships applied for

Number of scholarships received

Total amount awarded

Alyssa’s 2015-2016 freshman year scholarship awards. The scholarship money covered her tuition, room and board.
I looked at my spiral notebook with all of my scholarship notes. I organized the essays, list of scholarships, deadlines, etc., into a three-ring binder. Soon after, I was getting requests from friends and family to help them and their son or daughter learn how to apply for scholarships. When a stranger came into our restaurant and asked for help finding scholarships, ‘Ships Ahoy was created.
scholarships ahoy paula kelly frey
What does ‘Ship Ahoy provide?
We create scholarship kits that help students learn how to find scholarships that are perfect for them and keep their applications organized with easy-to-follow instructions. I really like helping students graduate with no debt. I’ve heard horrible stories!

“We create scholarship kits that help students learn how to find scholarships that are perfect for them.”

What kept you and your daughter motivated to apply for all of these scholarships? I barely filled out 12, let alone 80 in one year!
We’re small business owners and we own a few rental properties. We know what it’s like to have fluctuating income. That was a huge motivator for my husband and I. For my daughter, she obviously understood our financial situation. She worked in the restaurant with us so she heard a lot of our conversations about money.

I think she only had one day when she came home from school and didn’t want to fill out a scholarship application. She said, “Ugh. This one’s only for $250. Do I have to fill it out?” and I said, “No, you don’t. But if you don’t fill it out, your dad and I are going to assume that you would have gotten it and you will have to pay the first $250 of school.” She goes, “Oh no. I’ll fill it out.” Soon after, we were getting the award letters. It helped once those scholarships started coming in.

You gain confidence from that.
She gained a lot of confidence from it. When the scholarships started coming in, she saw what a load it was off of us.

Scholarships Awarded to Alyssa

Freshman Year


Sophomore Year


Junior Year


Senior Year


Number of scholarships applied for 73 51 62 Currently working on!
Number of scholarships received 12 8 10 5
Total scholarship money awarded $16,875 $13,115 $17,870 $14,795
Lowest scholarship awarded $100 $400 $250 n/a
Highest scholarship awarded $3,000 $4,000 $5,000 n/a
Awards based on merit (grades, major, volunteering) 6 3 4 3
Awards based on ancestry, family status, etc. 6 5 6 2
What were you able to do because tuition was paid for?
We didn’t have to refinance our rental properties. I always felt like money for tuition would have come from there. When Alyssa turned 21, we went on a vacation to Las Vegas. Trips like that probably would have never happened if she didn’t have scholarships.
how to apply for scholarships
Learn how to do Las Vegas on a budget so you can reward yourself after all those scholarships you get. Photo cred: Public Domain Pictures.
What are some common concerns you see from students and parents in regards to how to apply for scholarships?
The FAFSA is a huge concern for parents. They’re worried about filling it out, and it’s not always very clear. You need to fill out the FAFSA to apply for some scholarships. Scholarship committees want to make sure you have exhausted every avenue you have. They don’t care if you received financial aid as a matter of fact, they just want to know that you tried.
What are your top tips for how to apply for scholarships?

Here’s how to apply for scholarships:

First, tell everyone you know. Almost everyone knows of a scholarship.
Find your niche. Additionally, figure out what you’re good at. Scholarship application requirements vary from essay writing to creating a video to simply filling out a form.
Focus on who you are. We’re part Native American, so Alyssa can apply for those scholarships. If you’re in jazz band, if you want to study in Japan, if you know how to do a duck call, there’s a scholarship for it. If you have cystic fibrosis, if you have a sibling with autism, if you are a descendent from a World War II veteran, there’s a scholarship for it. You didn’t have to do anything extra because it’s part of who you are.

Write out all of your extracurricular activities. If you’ve joined a few clubs or held a leadership position, chances are there’s a scholarship for it. If you have volunteer or service hours, there’s a scholarship for it. Type into Google your club or organization with the word “scholarship” behind it and see what you come up with.

Stay organized and focused. Lastly, know when the deadlines are. There is nothing worse than thinking about a scholarship that you are perfect for and then realizing that you didn’t budget your time and see it after the deadline. When scholarships say that it needs to be received in their office by May 1, it can’t be postmarked by then, it needs to be received by then. Understand the details and follow instructions to a T.
how to apply for scholarships
Alyssa was able to apply for Native American scholarships based on her family’s heritage. Courtesy of Paula Kelly-Frey.
What do scholarship committees like to see on applications?
That’s a hard one to answer. Every committee is looking for something different. Sometimes they’re looking for the person with hardships, sometimes they’re solely looking at grades. The one thing scholarship committees might all be looking for is for you to be yourself. If you can put a little of your personality into the scholarship essay those have a better chance at being awarded. Whether it’s a little joke or personal story. In short, be yourself and put your personality into the application.
Already in student loan debt? There’s an easy way out with the Foundations Course.
What paperwork do students need on hand in regards to how to apply for scholarships?

? Birth certificates

Some scholarships require a copy of your birth certificate, especially if it’s ancestry related, so ask your parents for a few copies.

? ACT scores

Keep a folder safe with all of your past ACT scores. Scholarship applications frequently request this information.

? Transcripts

Locate your high school transcript or college transcript. Most schools allow requests for multiple copies of your transcript, just be aware that some schools charge for additional transcript copies.

? Any certifications or ID cards

If you’re a part of a club or hold special credentials, scholarship committees want proof. For example, Alyssa needs her tribal card to prove that she’s part Native American. Gather your certifications or ID cards and make copies of everything.

What is the best way to learn how to apply for scholarships?
First, create a list of potential scholarships with associated deadlines. Then during summer or winter breaks or free time, start writing essays or outlines, even if you think they aren’t great to start with. As the deadlines come up, you won’t be looking at a blank piece of paper, you will already have the answer to it. Add a compelling intro or a few more details and you’re done.

Next, you’ll want to aim at completing one or two applications per week as the deadlines approach. It gets easier to crank them out once you get organized. Eventually, you can get to a point where you can take one essay and tweak it to fit several applications.

What are your favorite resources you use to find new scholarships?


That’s all I use. It’s the easiest way to learn how to apply for scholarships.

?️ Street signs

It sounds weird, but whenever we drive somewhere, I read the street signs or billboards and Google it to see if there’s a scholarship. Kickapoo exit? Google “Kickapoo scholarship.” Vanilla Bean Way? Google “vanilla scholarship.” We found a chocolate scholarship as a result! Who knew there’d be a scholarship for chocolate? In fact there is one called For the Love of Chocolate. Find ones that are under publicized. Do this for whatever you’re talking about.

?? Friends and family

Tell everyone that you are looking for scholarships. Most likely, they all have heard of ones. My parents belong to the Corvette Club of Topeka and the National Corvette Club has a scholarship that Alyssa is eligible for. 

how to apply for scholarships
One of the many scholarship acceptance letters as a result of scholarship hunting like crazy. Courtesy of Paula Kelly-Frey.
What’s the hardest part about learning about how to apply for scholarships?
The time that it takes to apply, staying organized and not missing deadlines. Even with a list, a few essays under your belt and the monotonous applications, you can only go so fast. That’s why the ‘Ships Ahoy kits are so useful. The kits are already organized and ready to go.

Another hard part is following up. Scholarship money might not go through because they are waiting on a piece of information from you. Follow up and don’t assume that once you have received the award letter that it’s going to magically show up. Be diligent with any money that doesn’t come through or if you don’t hear from the company immediately.

Do you have any parting words of wisdom?
Be persistent. Stick with it. All things considered, you won’t get every scholarship that you apply for. The rejections aren’t fun but when you get an award, celebrate. Not only are they giving you money, you’re getting money that you don’t have to pay back! They also typically have a really nice letter with it telling you how wonderful you are and that is a great ego booster. Promote yourself. Don’t be shy or bashful about the things you have accomplished. Even if you think there’s not a scholarship out there, I guarantee you there is.

Ready to learn even more on how to apply for scholarships?

Learn more about ‘Ships Ahoy and how to apply for scholarships here. Let us know in the comments what action steps you have taken to cover tuition and how many scholarships you have been awarded. We believe in you, so go! Take action!

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