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Tips for winning college scholarships
Nov 3, 2023
Season 2 | Episode 2

Tips for winning college scholarships

Keep it organized and get your money.

We all know college has become expensive and loans can leave you paying for college for years (and often decades) after you graduate. So scholarships are key to helping you get through school and thrive afterward. This week, “Financially Inclined” host Yanely Espinal and guest Youssef Hasweh dig into all the details of finding scholarships, staying organized and what “full ride” actually means. Dive in with us by watching the video below.

Think you’re financially inclined? Dig deeper into scholarships.

  • Find more of Hasweh’s scholarship tips at Youssef University.
  • Check out this Forbes list of the “9 Best Scholarship Websites and Search Engines.”
  • Consult this handy guide of mistakes students make when applying for scholarships and how to avoid them.
  • There’s also this U.S. News & World Report how-to guide to help you find and apply for scholarships.

Are you in an educational setting? Here’s a handy listening guide.

This podcast is presented in partnership with Greenlight: the money app for teens — with investing. For a limited time, our listeners can earn $10 when they sign up today for a Greenlight account.

Financially Inclined November 3rd, 2023 Transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.


Yanely Espinal: What’s up, everybody? I’m Yanely Espinal and welcome to financially inclined from Marketplace. We’re sharing money lessons for living life your own way. In this episode, we’re jumping into scholarships. It is super important to learn about college scholarships because it can really help you pay for the cost of college. We have someone on the show this week that I would call a scholarship whiz. His name is Youssef Hasweh, and he’s a senior at the University of Chicago where he received a full ride to attend. Now, he learned that full ride doesn’t necessarily mean full because it didn’t include a lot of the costs and expenses that were popping up left and right and that were kind of unexpected for him. That’s why he turned to college scholarships to help him bridge those gaps. To date, he has won dozens of scholarships.

Youssef Hasweh: I won the country’s hardest scholarships and got a full ride to my dream school.

Yanely Espinal: Now, on top of being a full time student, Youssef creates content on TikTok and YouTube to help thousands of other students learn his top scholarship tips. So, you know, he’s got some scholarship sauce for us. All right, let’s get into it.

Youssef Hasweh: I was ten when I found out that I couldn’t go to college. I was ten when I really understood that we were poor and that going to college wasn’t going to happen unless I got a full ride. The entire time like I was going through the college process and like, all I could think about were scholarships. All I could think about was money. Like, it wasn’t a privilege for me to have a dream school, because my dream school was a school that was going to give me a full ride. My dream school was a school that I could attend. Like that was my only dream. It really was touch and go for a little bit. Like I genuinely didn’t know if I was going to go to school. That’s why I grinded so hard on my scholarship process just to make sure that I can like have as true of a college experience as a low income student can have.

Yanely Espinal: Now, I think that a lot of students, again, they don’t really see themselves as a type of student that’s going to be able to get a big scholarship.

Yanely Espinal: Yeah, yeah

Yanely Espinal: And I think a lot of times, and scholarships are like these big amounts of money. And so they might be like, okay. Youssef’s probably like the exception because there’s no way that I’m going to get…

Youssef Hasweh: Oh my God, I hate that. Yeah.

Yanely Espinal: So, tell us, what would you say to a student who’s like, This is not like, I’m not even going to get one? He’s an exception.

Youssef Hasweh: That is such a myth. I hate. I still hear that to this day. Well, that’s one of the scholarship myths that I’m trying to demystify. Is students believe, like one, like the scholarships available are going to be so competitive. But there are some already that are super local, like the community based scholarships. Some of them like were the biggest ones that I got. And they go like straight to your pocket. Most of the community based ones, that’s even better. And then like the Nate, the national ones is some of the more competitive ones, but those have more winners, like more award money. So as long as you put yourself out there.

Yanely Espinal: I love this like different types of scholarships thing that you’re talking about because I mean, community based scholarships, I don’t know if that’s something that I really ever even heard of. And I got a scholarship to college, but not a community based one. So tell us, what are the different types of scholarships out there and how would you categorize them? Merit based, academic, need based like what are the different types?

Youssef Hasweh: One, there’s going to be merit based scholarships lose their base of academics. Those can be given nationally or by organizations. But a lot of time you’re going to find merit based scholarships from your schools. Number two is need based scholarships. You’ll often see this with school. So a lot of financial aid package strictly based on finances, FAFSA. Your FAFSA determines your EFC, and that’s your expected family contributions. And then number three is community and local based scholarships. So like law firms like community orgs, local, like base, like neighborhood organizations will oftentimes give scholarships just for students in that neighborhood. So definitely tap your high school counselors because they know all of them. Search up all the law firms in your area. They will almost 100% have a scholarship for you. And those are the scholarships that usually go straight into your bank.

Yanely Espinal: I love that. That’s amazing.

Youssef Hasweh: But I need to explain full need schools like first thing, because students don’t know that you can just essentially get what we think is a full ride by just applying to a full need school. If you have like full demonstrated like need. Low income students, like myself, like for kids, like I assumed automatically like I couldn’t go to a school unless it was super cheap. So I was only like thinking like community based schools or city schools when like a bunch of these, like liberal art schools, like a lot of elite schools can cover everything and you can attend an amazing institution. So search like full need universities in the US, there’s like 50 to 60 and they will cover everything except for EFC. So your FASFA determines your EFC, which is expected family contribution. Like let’s say your family’s expected to put up $1,000 for you to go to school, let’s say to attend for a year. It’s $40,000. And your EFC, your family expected to put up a thousand, They’ll give you 39,000. So they give you everything except for your EFC. So just search up full need schools. And then that’s what we typically see is our traditional, like need based scholarship.

Yanely Espinal: That is amazing. So let’s go back. Let’s pretend that you’re in high school all over again and you get ready to.

Youssef Hasweh: Oh! You best not do that hahahaha

Yanely Espinal: Before all the scholarship.

Youssef Hasweh: Facts fact facts.

Yanely Espinal: But let’s say you had to apply to college all over again. But you now know. You now know what you know.

Youssef Hasweh: Yeah.

Yanely Espinal: Yeah. So what would you do in terms of, like, start like mapping out exactly how you would pay for everything, especially given that you’re applying for scholarships?

Youssef Hasweh: These are the keys. If you’re high schools out there, these are the keys to success. Whoa. I think the first thing I would do is, you know, me and like, I need to be organized. I need to be so organized in this process. I’m making databases for everything. One, like I had a database for fly-in schol- Like fly-in scholarships so schools that could fly me out to visit them, had a database for college aps. I didn’t have a database for scholarships like Live, I would just send myself warnings and like, mark the the deadline for the scholarship on my calendar. And then that was the only notification I was getting. That worked, but there are so many that I was missing. And I think high schoolers forget, this is literally your one chance, like you’re one shot, like you’re going through one application cycle as a high school senior, and that’s when the most scholarships are open. So I think right now I would personally get that database, get that database. put in all the ones that you’re eligible for. And I think the best way to. I know scholarships is literally Google. Maybe like your ethnicity. Like I would search up like Arab or like student of color scholarships. Like sort of any financial needs, like low income. And then where are you at? Like New York City. Like as soon as you put all those boom, the first thing that comes up, scholarship. Plus, for me, students of color, low income, New York City scholarship plus, that was a $20,000 scholarship that goes directly to the student. And I won it just because I Google that. So students just being as specific as possible about where you’re coming from, you find those like more niche scholarships, put that in a database, and then you want to apply as early as possible. Like that’s that’s what I would do. The first thing I would do is like the minute it opens, I’m applying because this is like one last, like super, super insider tip. If you take anything from this, Yanely, anything from this is a lot of these readers like the Coca-Cola, for example, the Coca Cola scholarship is like 100,000 applicants. Why would I be picked out of 100,000 between three 300 winners? Well, like they they say who the winners are. Like not even five days or a week after it closes. There’s no way Mr. Coca-Cola’s reading 100,000 applicants in five days.

Yanely Espinal: So should we be putting like two weeks before the deadline?

Youssef Hasweh: But yeah, you should be putting the opening day, the day that it opens!

Yanely Espinal: Yeah.

Youssef Hasweh: If they’re transparent about that for sure. Yeah. Something we also need to demystify is that you could be winning money at way even after graduation.

Yanely Espinal: Oh.

Youssef Hasweh: We’re all sort of not even on the scholarship game anymore after high school but like you can continuously, you can keep getting that bag and right now college. College Sophomores The Obama Voyager scholarship is open for college college sophomores and it’s a $10,000 budget for a voyage. They fly you out to New York City twice. They give you $20,000, like just $20,000 flat, and then they give you a $20,000 Airbnb credit. It’s like 2,000 for the next ten years after you graduate. Like, are you kidding me? Ultimate trips. Unlimited unlimited trips. I mean, my friend group, we’re out, we’re out every year. But yeah, there are programs like that that are still so cool, like, that’s so dope and it’s open to college sophomores so.

Yanely Espinal: I think that’s really important too, because I think that there are a lot of misconceptions, like you mentioned, where like a lot of students would think, Oh, but I’m, I’m only going to get a scholarship if I was low income or if I was a student of color. I was a first generation American. But I’m not low income, not first gen.

Youssef Hasweh: Yeah. Yeah. And you can still get money. You can still win money like those are of scholarships that I, I tend to prioritize and I tend to amplify but there’s so many other you can literally there was a scholarship I just saw the other day of any student who helps their parents who own a restaurant. Like if that’s your situation like there’s such niche and different ways to win scholarships. Yeah.

Yanely Espinal: Got it. So yeah, that if you’re not low income, that doesn’t mean that you’re not eligible for scholarships. That’s not true. It just means you have to look for things that you know, that resonate with you, that I that you identify with. I love that I really like what you mentioned about how, like you get a full ride and the word full is like, not entirely.

Youssef Hasweh: Oh, yeah.

Yanely Espinal: Because you know my story. And that pretty much happened to me where they talk about how it’s a full scholarship. But that that didn’t cover my textbooks, that didn’t cover my Amtrak, that didn’t cover, you know, the science lab fees and the arts supplies. There were so many things that I felt like I had to come out of pocket for, and I didn’t have the money out of pocket. That’s why I ended up in credit card debt. So if you could kind of talk to students that are coming up behind you like they’re a couple of years behind you and thinking about college now, what are the other costs that you would tell them? Like, listen, you got to consider these other things when it comes to college.

Youssef Hasweh: Oh, my God. Absolutely. Eating out. Oh, my God. Because the the dining hall food is disgusting. I mean, you’re going to have like 3 a.m. Pizza nights or insomnia cookie nights with your friends. And I’m telling you, like, I think that adds up the most. The DoorDashes the Uber eats. Just feeding your self. Sustaining yourself is hard in college. I mean, like, I had to buy a whole new winter coat. I’m from. I’m from New York. Like, it’s cold in New York. Chicago! Chicago Is a different beast. And like, even just like, shampoo, like if you also if you’re in a dorm or you have your own bathrooms, so I had to clean it myself like that, like those supplies.

Yanely Espinal: So were there any other challenges outside of just like figuring out how to spend the money? Like, did you get taxed on any of the scholarships?

Youssef Hasweh: Oh, my God, how could I forget this? How could I forget this? Okay, so some scholarships? Well, almost all of them. So some will be some will be open to like paying the tax for you. So they’ll just take that really off the top. A lot of times I’ll send you like 1099. However, student expenses are a tax write off. I’m up for tax, right? I’m just saying how to is like if you you’re using the full amount for student expenses then you can write off a lot of what you’re spending as long as you have receipts to back it up. I was like, I don’t even understand how much money I was making because I was like, Oh, it’s free money. So I wasn’t like setting aside 25% to ensure like at least I was paying, I was paying whatever that cut was in full for. So I was I was just shocked, like I was just way shocked the first time. Now I’ve adjusted. Like now I set aside an ammount.

Yanely Espinal: You recommend like splitting up the scholarship as soon as you get it immediately put away.

Youssef Hasweh: Yeah. One fourth of it. Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. Just to be safe, but also keep all your receipts. Keep everything. Yep.

Yanely Espinal: Yeah. You can show what the money was used for and if it was for school. So where do you put that money then? Because if it’s in your checking account you’re proabbaly going to use it, if you pull 25%,

Youssef Hasweh: Savings, of course, savings. And if you’re in a high yield savings account like you taught us, then the money that you’re setting aside will give you even more gain you even more money as you go through as you go through college, which this is a win win.

Yanely Espinal: So open a high yield savings account and put 25% of your scholarship amount in there to account for the taxes that you will owe when you the following year when you’re taxed on the previous year’s scholarship money.

Youssef Hasweh: That was such a good question because I forgot how much anxiety like that brought me. Like with tax easy. And like my first time, I was a mess. I never recovered.

Yanely Espinal: Well, I’m sorry you had to deal with so much anxiety, but it sounds like you really come around to a place where you now have systems in place to help you organize this money.

Youssef Hasweh: For sure.

Yanely Espinal: Reach the money better. Just kind of keep track of where it is and make sure your taxes are on point so you’re not getting in trouble with the IRS.

Youssef Hasweh: Absolutely.

Yanely Espinal: Listen, this is amazing. And thank you for coming on here.

Youssef Hasweh: No I love this.

Yanely Espinal: To tell you the truth is you learned the hard way by making mistakes. And if we don’t create content like this, the next generation.

Youssef Hasweh: Everyone’s going get

Yanely Espinal: Learn the hard way and make mistakes again.

Youssef Hasweh: Absolutely. I love this space you’re providing.

Yanely Espinal: One more important tip when it comes to scholarships is that if your college or university offers you a scholarship, you can actually negotiate that offer. It’s as easy as calling up the financial aid office and asking them for more. Now, of course, you’ll need to show proof of why you need more, but you’ll never know unless you try. Now, I love everything that Youssef shared on this pod. From getting started early to think, organize, and especially to continuing to apply for scholarships even after you start your first year. But now we got to talk about that action this week using Yousef’s tips. I want you to find a few different scholarships that you want to apply for, and I already know that you’re going to create that clean and organized spreadsheet to keep track of all the details. All right. Good luck getting those scholarship dollars. 


Yanely Espinal: Financially Inclined is brought to you by Marketplace from American Public Media in collaboration with Next Gen Personal Finance. I’m your host Yanely Espinal. Our senior producers are Hayley Hershman and Zoë Saunders. Our video editor is Francesca Manto and our graphics artist is Mallory Brangan. Our producers are Hannah Harris Green and Hayley Hershman. Gary O’Keefe is our sound engineer. Our intern is H Conley. Bridget Bodnar is the Director of Podcasts. Francesca Levy is the Executive Director. Neil Scarbrough is the VP and General Manager of Marketplace. Our theme music is, by Wonderly.

Hannah Harris Green: Financially Inclined is funded in part by the Sy Syms Foundation, partnering with organizations and people working for a better and more just future since 1985. And special thanks to the Ranzetta Family Charitable Fund and Next Gen Personal Finance for continuing to support Marketplace in its work to make younger audiences smarter about the economy.

“Financially Inclined” is Marketplace’s first video podcast and our first show for teens! Each week we talk with some really smart people, like influencers, high school students and financial experts, to help make learning about money fun and simple. Consider us your one-stop-shop for financial confidence.

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