Storytelling Methods & Scholarship Dollars

  • Birgitta & Her Happy Parents at the Release of Write Big

During application season, it’s normal for students and families to focus on acceptance. But many students will end up with a menu of acceptances, and then they’ll have another tough decision to make. Because it’s not just about where they want to spend the next four years of their lives, but how much do they—and their parents— want to pay?

Let me tell you about my student Birgitta. Birgitta received acceptances into all the colleges where she applied: the Honors College at Oregon State University, University of San Diego, University of Denver, Gonzaga University, and the University of Vermont. As a great student with a strong GPA, impressive ACT score, and memorable college application essay, she received the following offers from each school:

1. $24,000 from the OSU Honors college over 4 years, meaning she would be paying for only 3 years of college.

2. $18,000 Presidential Scholarship from University of Vermont, renewable annually. 

3. $21,000 Merit Scholarship from both University of San Diego and University of Denver, renewable annually. 

4. $19,000 Merit Scholarship from Gonzaga University, also renewable annually. 

Should she take the OSU deal where she would pay for only 3 years, and as an Oregon resident, have very little travel expenses? Should she attend USD, in the lovely and temperate climate of San Diego? With total tuition and fees close to 40,000 a year, even with her scholarship, it would be a huge financial commitment. On the surface, Gonzaga and University of Vermont were similar in cost, but the cost of travel made UVM, Birgitta’s top choice, even more expensive.

These scholarships were part of the first wave of Birgitta’s acceptances, but she was also invited by Gonzaga to write two new essays for more scholarships. She used the storytelling techniques from our college application essay work to craft essays that did more than impress but left an impression and ultimately won another 20,000 over four years! 

When I speak at high schools, many students are afraid to apply to private colleges because of the higher tuition. However, they don’t know that some schools with large endowments can make them offers, like Birgitta, that can sometimes come within $5000 per year of a state school. These multiple scholarships also provide students with powerful decision making opportunities (along with parents) about how much to invest in their future, conversations around debt, and important comparisons between investments.

Even with the scholarship from Gonzaga, Birgitta couldn’t shake her love of UVM. When she committed this spring, she also promised her parents to get a job. Guess who is our new local Starbucks barista?

You can read more about Birgitta and her essay that helped her win multiple acceptances and invitations for scholarships in my book Write Big: From College Application Essay to Storytelling Standout.