Shay Spivey’s story is one which many students looking to pay for school can relate to and gain inspiration from. Like students of all ages, she found herself in the all-too-common conundrum of having college aspirations without the finances to make her dreams a reality. Most students aren’t independently wealthy, after all.
However, Spivey’s scholarship story is unique due to the fact that her search began later than that of a typical college student. As a young single mother, Spivey began to reevaluate her life when she turned 30. One of her goals in life had always been to get a college degree. But, with limited means and supporting her children, Spivey was working full-time and only had the means for community college courses.
Like many thirty-somethings, she was on a tight budget and still had student loans from when she had originally attended college. Spivey shared that, while it was helpful to attend classes, she was taking one or two at a time and began to become concerned at how long the process was taking. Plus, it was difficult to fit in a full-time job and taking care of her kids on top of classes.
As a result, she shifted her goals, feeling that it was better for her to work toward her degree full-time, so she wouldn’t have to take night courses which would impact her kids. That’s exactly what Spivey set out to do.
It takes hard work to become a $100k scholarship winning success story.
While working her full-time job, she began to utilize her lunch hours and all of her spare time at the library, researching her options to obtaining help to pay for school.
“The first year, I spent my lunch hours and evening applying for scholarships. I had a goal to apply for one scholarship a day, sometimes one a week.”
She embarked on the process about a year before she actually intended on going back to school in order to give her plenty of time to gain the funding she needed to make her goals a reality. During her time researching scholarships and financial aid, Spivey discovered Fastweb.
According to Spivey, “I found that Fastweb was the number one site I’d use – the majority of my scholarship search was done with Fastweb. I don’t think I could have done it without it. Fastweb is the easy way – it does the work for you.”
With the help of Fastweb, Spivey began applying for any and all scholarships she qualified for and put 100 percent of her efforts toward doing so. But, as with most worthwhile things, Spivey’s scholarship search wasn’t easy. Spivey applied for her first scholarship and details, “I put everything I had into it - my essay was tailored and I worked hard on the application. It turns out I didn’t get it and I was heartbroken. But, it started me on the path of how to apply to scholarships. I did that one, so I figured I could do others.”
That first year, Spivey applied for a total of 67 scholarships and received decline letters for the majority of them. Those letters, thankfully, didn’t discourage her from pursuing her dream, instead it helps her gain a different perspective on the whole situation.
“For every 1 scholarship I won, I received at least 10 rejections. I switched my perspective: I counted the “no” letters and when I got to 10, I knew a yes was coming soon! There was a time that I was getting a decline letter in the mail every day.”
That first year, her dedication and efforts paid off. Spivey was awarded $18,500 in scholarships to attend school and, because many of the scholarships she applied for were for single parents, working mothers and adult students, she was able to supplement her income with the additional award amounts she won for things like childcare, housing, etc. after paying for her tuition.
Spivey was ultimately awarded 22 scholarships, totaling over $100,000 throughout the five years she returned to college, in addition to the Federal Pell Grants and the Indiana State Frank O’Bannon Grant Higher Education Award.
What’s her secret?
Well, in addition to putting forth all of her time and effort, Spivey recommends a binder method. Basically, she would keep all of her applications, recommendation letters, transcripts and anything else necessary to applying for scholarships organized within a three-ring binder, which she took everywhere that first year.
“Most scholarships asked the same question(s), so I kept my personal essay and reused it, tailoring it to each of the scholarships I applied for. The number one organizational tip I’d say is to keep a three-ring binder with copies of transcripts, letters of recommendation – everything I needed to apply for scholarships I kept in that binder. I checked Fastweb every day and, whenever there was a new scholarship opportunity, I was able to quickly put all of the pieces together.
She’d request that her letters of recommendation be addressed generally because “the majority of scholarships will take a general letter that speaks to your character and I was able to take one letter, make 20 copies and use it for multiple scholarships.”
What advice would this scholarship winner give for your scholarship search?
Two of her biggest pieces of advice for students looking for scholarships are the following:
“Don’t be afraid of the essay. The personal essay is the easiest essay you will ever write – it is YOUR story. Who knows your story better than you?”
The second piece of advice helped her maintain financial support after winning scholarships – an aspect many scholarship winners may forget about or neglect.
“Once you win a scholarship, good communication is the key to keeping that scholarship for multiple years of support.”
Through these methods, Spivey was able to pay for five years of education and supplement housing and childcare costs (when applicable funding was given), winning a total of more than $100k in scholarships. After finishing school, she now has both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work, which she uses to help people with mental health and addictions counseling.
She urges students to recognize that “there is free money out there; you just need to find it. The thing I hear most often is “I would not know what to do.” My purpose is really to teach people how to access the money that’s out there and available for them. A lot of these people qualify for financial aid, scholarships, grants and more.”
If you think her story is miraculous, Spivey also wants students of all ages to know that her story came out of hard work and effort. It wasn’t
an easy process and her success didn’t come overnight. In fact, Spivey notes, “I didn’t qualify for a lot of opportunities because I was an adult student so imagine how many more scholarships students of high school age qualify for. There is so much money out there.”
After people began to hear about Spivey’s scholarship success story, they began to seek her out for help.
“I started doing financial aid counseling in my living room and at the library. After a while, I had to start turning people away because there were so many people who wanted to know how you win scholarships. I even hand out Fastweb flyers to people in my classes but I found a lot of people needed one on one help with guidance and direction. I couldn’t help everyone – that’s when I started turning people away. Everyone was asking the same questions so I figured let me write it down to help people get the basics of what it’s about to apply for scholarships.”
And that’s exactly what she did. Spivey wrote a series of short books for people that cannot afford college planning or financial aid counselors. She also gives workshops to help people with the scholarship and financial aid processes, where a large part of her tutorials are simply sharing what she learned throughout her own process. She’s tailored her books to be formatted like workbooks, with worksheets, bulleted lists and quick tips, and they can be read cover-to-cover in as little as 30 minutes.
“The people that come to my workshops - they’re the parents that cannot afford to send their child to school and are desperate for help. I give up my weekends and evening so I can show those families that there are free ways you can go to school, you just need to know how to access them,” says Spivey.
In an effort to pay it forward, Spivey now teaches scholarship workshops in partnership with schools and organizations that help disadvantaged students access higher education.
You can learn more about Shay Spivey on her website
and find her books which include, How to Submit a Winning Scholarship Application
and How to Find Scholarships and Free Financial Aid for Private High Schools
, on Amazon