Taking the Lottery Out of Scholarship Applications

Today we have a special feature. My daughter provided today’s post as promised last week. It is hard to capture the work she did in preparation to winning all those scholarships and the pitch contest. She practiced in front of anyone who would sit still long enough for her to get it out. She honed her presentation until it was as smooth as silk. I even tried to interrupt and distract her as she practiced so she would be prepared for anything.

A few notes are in order. When Heather says the pitch conext was organized by a local bank, local business owners and the college, know I was not involved in any way with the program and had zero influence over the results. I listened to Heather practice, but did not attend the event. I didn’t want to be a distraction.

I want to point out Heather mentioned hard work. Sorry to say you can achieve great things as long as you are willing to do the work necessary to succeed. Another point I hope people don’t miss is Heather’s encouragement to never give up. If one thing doesn’t work, research and study more and reapply. The prize frequently goes to the consistent and persistent.

Taking the Lottery Out of Scholarship Applications

by: Heather Schroeder


I’ve never been comfortable with bragging. I wouldn’t go around telling people I got the best grade on a math test or that I got accepted into one of the best colleges in the United States. This is something I just can’t get myself to do. So, when my dad asked me to write a blog post about a recent success I had, I had to tell myself that it’s OK to be excited about winning something.

I struggled when I was in primary school. I was in a special reading class as I couldn’t read at the level I needed to be at and I was equally horrible at comprehension and writing. My reading disorder continued throughout my middle school career and I thought, based on my experiences, that I would never be able to read. Once I entered high school and wasn’t forced to read, I willingly picked up a book at my high school library. In less than a year, I had read more than twenty books and suddenly I knew how to write. This was the starting point that has led me to where I am today—an entrepreneur, a mentor, and a teacher.

I’m currently a student at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin. Fox Valley Technical College has a 94% employment rate, the highest in the area. This was the first year that the college had a pitch contest for FVTC students. A local bank, several entrepreneurs in the area, and FVTC staff all supported and funded the pitch contest.

Naturally, I felt a need to sign up, but even though I signed up, there was no guarantee that I would be picked to be one of the eight finalists. Three months after I signed up, I got the email stating I was accepted as one of the finalists. I was rejoicing, and I felt like I was on top of the world. There was only one problem, though—I had a lot of work to do because my business was not what the judges were looking for. And if I wanted to win the grand prize, I needed to switch from being a solopreneur to an entrepreneur.

Think about it. I started a tutoring business with the intention of being the only employee and taking on as many clients as humanly possible. This worked great and was a nice way to have some extra cash coming in on the side; yet, I wasn’t making enough to survive. This is one of the reasons I decided to go back to college. I knew I needed an education, no matter how little or how much, to be taken seriously as an academic tutor.

I had one month to come up with a 90-second pitch for the Fox Trap Pitch Contest in hopes of winning the grand prize. First through third place were guaranteed a financial award. This is something I was bound and determined to win.

My adrenaline was pumping as I entered the room full of judges and FVTC staff. My entrepreneurship teacher was also running the show. I had to make him proud as my entrepreneurship teacher is the reason I’ve come so far. My pitch went great and the judges seemed interested in my teaching style I created and the opportunities for people in the valley and around the world to become employed by me. I’m an ambitious little thing that doesn’t let my size determine how big my dreams can be.

I won first place at the Fox Trap Pitch Contest. This was one of the first times I’ve seen myself succeed at something and then be told that I need to continue with my plan. I learned many things when I prepared and presented my 90-second pitch. The most important thing I learned was that writing a pitch is nearly identical in writing an essay for a scholarship.

When preparing my pitch for the contest, I had to identify a problem, identify the target market, identify the solution or solutions, and determine how my idea will make money. I also had to identify what I was going to do with the winnings. This outline is exactly how many scholarship essays should be written.

All scholarships follow the same general rules including determining the winners by how creative the applicant is, how well written the essay is, the quality of the information, and determining if the applicant is a right fit for the scholarship. When writing an essay for a scholarship, follow these simple rules.

  1. Identify the problem or identify the topic

When writing essays, research reports, and personal memoirs, the stories or the introduction introduces the audience to the situation. Research reports are the easiest when determining and solving a problem. With my pitch, I determined the problem by stating startling statistics and examples of why it’s important to help “at risk” students and students in special education succeed.


  1. Identify the target market or who you are trying to reach

Scholarship essays usually want applicants to write about issues that are affecting others in the United States. One scholarship I run across yearly is the drinking and driving scholarship that requires applicants to write about and videotape themselves on describing how they think they can help make people aware of the risks that come with drinking and driving. With my pitch, I determined my target market by identifying who I wanted to help. My target market is “at risk” students and students in special education. The target market for the drinking and driving essay could be people who drink often and take the risk of driving or college students. According to the college drinking prevention website, “1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.”

  1. Identify the solution or what you think could be done in the future

When writing a scholarship essay, determine what you think could be done to solve the problem. My solution for my pitch was offering academic tutoring services for “at risk” students and students in special education and teaching these students by utilizing my teaching style, which has so far been a success.


  1. Identify what you will do with the winnings

Like with the pitch contest and writing scholarship essays, judges want to know what you will do with the winnings. I determined in my pitch that if I won I would use the winnings to go to China to determine if my business idea can work globally. With scholarships, determine how you will use the winnings. I usually state that I would use the winnings for housing, tuition, food, and supplies.

The last piece of information I can give is to research how to write scholarships outside of reading this blog post. I have given some valuable information, but there is so much more available online. I suggest looking on YouTube and searching for videos on pitch contests. These contests have great insight on how to reach your audience and make a difference in lives of others.

I wish you the best of luck.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Endnote: Once again I encourage you to reach for your dreams. Heather is 23 years old and living her dreams. She is on her way to China for a month to teach in a few weeks. More opportunities are coming her way as a result. I don’t like to travel; she does. I never asked my kids to live the life I expected of them. I always encouraged they walk their own road. There will be bumps and even painful experiences. It’s part of life. But the journey is all worth it.

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Is a College Education Worth It?

imag0319The cost of a college education has risen faster than inflation for so long the discussion can no longer center on what your major is in college, but whether you should even go at all. We have all heard the statistics on how much more you earn with a college degree which begs the question: How much do you need?

Outside medical, education has seen prices skyrocket more than any other category of spending. According to the College Board, tuition and fees for the 2015-16 school year for state residents of public colleges is $9,410. Out-of-state and private colleges are significantly higher. Add room and board and the cost for the school year is $19,548. Now toss in the cost of textbooks and living expenses and the cost of a college education is a major investment.

There are ways to decrease the cost of an education. Starting at a two-year college and living at home or renting your own apartment versus living on campus can lower the total cost. The one nonnegotiable item is the tuition fee. Scholarships and grants can reduce or even eliminate the cost of higher education except for the time investment.

Define Education

When people hear me speak or watch me work in the office they come to the conclusion I must be highly educated. It is a surprise to them when I admit I have no college degrees. I don’t think I even have enough college credits (if I took the right classes) to qualify for an associate degree.

Education is defined by many people as the education you get in a classroom at a higher education institution. This is wrong! Even if you have a college degree, a large part of your learning came from outside the classroom. My life is no different. When I inform a group I have no college degrees it does not mean I am not educated! I have read more meaningful books in my life than 99% of the people in the country, including the college educated.

I take training courses like a sickness. Enrolled agents are required to have 24 hours of continuing education per years on average: no less than 16 per year and a minimum of 72 hours per three year cycle. This is the minimum to keep your license. I am not a minimum type of guy.

There are plenty of programs to help you prepare for the enrolled agent exam. I used a self-study course to prepare. For one summer I lived in that book. I wanted to learn as much as I could, not only for the exam, but to also help my clients. It went well beyond pride. I wanted to know this stuff. I wanted to digest and incorporate this material into my psyche. I wanted the answers to these tax questions to be automatic.

Am I Educated?

Knowing facts above, do you consider me educated? Let me ask this: If you get an IRS letter who do you think gives you the best chance for a positive outcome? A guy with a college degree or your friendly enrolled agent talking to you right now?

I consider myself educated. Learning never stops. A formal college education is only a foundation to build upon. If you stop pushing your education forward after they hand you your degree you are not educated, I don’t care what the piece of paper says hanging on the wall.

The real question is: Should I go to college? For most people the answer is no. You can start sending your hate mail to: idontgiveashit@gmail.com. Of course doctors and engineers must attend college. But does a plumber or tax guy need a degree? Instead of college, I recommend attending programs designed for your field of work. My experience getting an enrolled agent license is a perfect example. There are few good tax programs in college. Good tax guys don’t come out of university very often. A Master Plumber does not need a master’s degree from UW-Madison! And plumbers can earn a darn nice income. (So do tax guys, but keep that a secret; I don’t need competition.)

The Real Cost of a Formal Education

What more could Steve Jobs have done if he had completed his college degree? He attended classes he enjoyed and left the rest. Some classes he audited. It was about learning, not bragging about a piece of paper some claim means you are smart.

The real cost of an education is time. No matter how smart you are, no matter how many grants or scholarships you earn, you still invest the same amount of time as the schmuck sitting next to you in class paying for the whole thing in cash. And time is where the cost gets really high.

Working your way through college will keep the cost down. Putting living expenses on student loans is insane! I see it all the time. Education debt takes time to work off. It is time again. First you invest four years or more to earn a degree, then you need to find a job, then you need to make up lost ground while you were sitting in school. My biggest advantage attaining financial independence early was an early start. I had a job in high school (farming) and a job immediately after high school (working in my dad’s business and my nascent tax practice). Between life I found time for a handful of college classes. I had the college experience, kind of. I missed the parties and drinking part.

By the time all my high school buddies were finishing college I had a net worth of six figures and growing fast. They had student loans to pay and a job to find. I already had a job and an established business. I had a head start and made the most of it. The key was ambition. I am a self starter. Nobody holds a gun to my head to write the amount of material I do here. I do it because I want to. The same applied to my early days in business. I was always up to something, trying ideas, building my client list, learning how the real world works in business.

Necessary Formal Education

All this said I refuse to look down my nose at college educated colleagues. (Okay, there was that one time.) Some people need a formal education to help them decide a path in life. Some people learn better in a formal setting. And then there is all the self-serving BS required to get a BS. CPAs need 150 credit hours before they can sit for the CPA exam. (I might be off with this. I am pulling from the top of my head and since I am not a CPA I am light on the requirements. Feel free to correct me in the comments section below.)

imag0317Many professionals are required to have a minimum level of formal education to gain access to the herd. Attorneys, doctors, CPAs, and teachers fall into this group. If your career choice is in a field requiring a long education time investment you have no choice. A car mechanic is better served by attending a technical college or program geared toward their craft. By focusing your education on your trade you have an added risk. Additional knowledge is needed to function properly in any field. I recommend either self-study or short and intense seminars to build these additional skills. Example: I am attending a one-day grammar and proofreading seminar later this fall. Bet you are glad to hear that.

Some education is unavailable in a formal setting. Financial independence, early retirement, and intelligent investing are rarely part of the curriculum, but absolutely necessary to live your life well. By reading this blog you are gaining an education. No degrees when you finish, just a head full of knowledge shared by a tax guy with decades of experience. And isn’t that what education really is?

We learn by sharing knowledge. Once in a while a member of the herd discovers something new. Not often, but it happens. Then the knowledge is transmitted to peers for review. The whole group learns, becomes smarter.


My oldest daughter has struggled with college. She wanted to attend college all over the world on dad’s dime. She had no grants and not a single penny of scholarship money. The first test of college is getting there. Having someone else foot the bill teaches you nothing. You need to figure some things out for yourself. We all get there in time. The college classes I attended were paid for by the First National of Wallet.

Now my oldest is working. She is discovering what she really likes and wants from a career. In the end she will probably go to college; she wants to be a teacher; an honorable profession.

I come across strong against jumping right into college. That isn’t true. I am against a formal and expensive education until the student is ready. When the student is ready they will actually get an education along with that bill.

Whether you attend college or not, your education starts at birth and never stops until your last breath. Only a small fraction of your education will come from a classroom. Learning is a journey, not a destination.