Accepted to College! Now, How do I Pay the Bill?

I am often reminded that the challenge is not always getting my students accepted to college. The challenge is helping them figure out how to pay the bill. After years of working with amazing students, I have accumulated tons of great resources for students (and parents) that I hope can be helpful through the college application process and through the financial aid journey. First, I want to share a quick story of a fellow El Rancho alum that I had the pleasure of meeting and working with not too long ago.

Her name is Melissa, born and raised in Pico Rivera. She is a proud daughter of Mexican parents and a first-generation college grad. Upon her acceptance to UCLA, Melissa faced the reality that college would be more than academics — it would require a ton of money, money she didn’t have. After making the rookie mistake of accepting all loans offered on her freshman year financial aid package (note: do NOT do this without knowing what you are accepting, more to come later), she realized that she would end up leaving college with immense debt if she did not create a plan. Her plan revolved around finding scholarships and resources that could help her finance her education without needing to take out any more loans. While Melissa is a true rockstar, when I asked her to share her secret with my students she was quick to let me know there was no secret, all it took was tons of research and time to apply. After providing only one true piece of advice, “treat applying to scholarships as a job and it will pay off,” she was kind enough to also share some of the scholarships she applied to and even a list of her honors and awards (the list is extensive but also motivating!). Below are some of the popular scholarships she applied to at some point in her college journey:

  • TELACU Education Foundation Fund
  • Es El Momento: Beca Univision
  • Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Scholarship
  • Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF)
  • National Institutes of Health Undergraduate Scholarship Program
  • California Latino Legislative Caucus Foundation
  • Schools’ Alumni Association and Campus-Based Scholarships 


In addition to these, I would also recommend students start looking into these two opportunities that offer full-tuition scholarships:

  • Questbridge
  • The Posse Foundation

In addition to sharing this short list, Melissa shared her own list of EARNED awards. Yes, this means she applied and received every one of these scholarships! The key to her success was not based on the simple fact that she was a great student; she credits her ability to fund her schooling through scholarships to her work ethic: she would spend at least three hours per day researching/brainstorming/drafting/applying to scholarships which in the end, paid off as if it had been her job all along. What’s even better? She graduated UCLA with zero debt.

i got accepted. how do i pay gill media

Perhaps, scholarships can be a little intimidating because of the many misconceptions about them but before providing any further tips & tricks, it is important to highlight two things:

  1. Scholarships can be competitive, but for many of the smaller ones, there are very FEW students who apply so the odds are very much in your favor.
  2. Many students focus on applying before college then stop once admitted; you must continue applying to scholarships while in college. This is when your odds are even higher because there are so many available!

While preparing to write a scholarship essay can be daunting and time consuming, here are also a few tips (straight from Melissa) that will definitely help you during the process:

  • Make sure your essay fits the theme. This is where it is important to understand the prompt so make sure you deconstruct it first. As a quick tip, the theme of the essay will often be linked to the organization. For example, HSF will most likely want you to share how you describe your Hispanic heritage. It is helpful to do research on who is providing the money. Reality: Some funders will not even finish reading your application if its off-topic.
  • Looking for someone who has dealt with adversity at home? Interested in character or community service more than grades? Your research will put you a step ahead of applicants who are copying and passing “one-size-fits-all” essays. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.
  • Using quotes is awesome if you know how to use them correctly. Do not go “quote crazy” and simply insert because you think it will make your essay sound better. Preferably limit yourself to no more than two.
  • Plan in advance, and answer each part of the question. This is where deconstructing your prompt matters. Most prompts have different layers to them.
  • Make an outline to help you stay concise and on target. Think of two or three main points you want to make in response to the question then add some supporting information for each. Add a sentence or two of intro and conclusion for each; a strong structure and thesis is key!
  • Find an editor and step out of your comfort zone. The more of you you share on paper, the easier it is to grasp your passion.
  • Don’t be discouraged if you don’t win your 1st or 2nd time applying! Remember the most important piece to scholarships is to Be Efficient: Recycle and Tailor essays.

Now, whether you know someone who is concerned with how they will fund their college education or are already in college and are struggling with paying for it, please feel free to share these resources and remind them that there are TONS of resources available to help them succeed. It will not be easy and it will feel like a job but at the end, realizing that “job” helped pay for college will make it all worthwhile.

P.S. This website has a HUGE list of scholarships separated by due dates, majors, etc.

This website is also helpful for students who may just want to begin their research.

What do you think?

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Alma Renteria

Alma Renteria

Alma-Delia Renteria is a proud product of Lynwood schools. After graduating UC Riverside, with a B.A. in English and a year earlier than anticipated, she decided to commit her “gap year” to City Year. After City Year Los Angeles, Alma went on to purse a teaching career with Teach For America Los Angeles. Upon joining TFA, Alma began her education career as a middle school teacher. It was while teaching that she realized the need to do her part to help serve the community she grew up in and decided to run for office, getting elected to the Lynwood School Board at only 23 years old. Alma completed her Master’s degree in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University and is currently pursuing a 2nd Masters in Education Leadership and her Admin Credential. She was recently appointed by the Speaker to the Instructional Quality Commission and also serves as a Digital Learning Instructional Coach at a dual immersion school in Pico Rivera.

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