Here's Your Guide to Writing a Great Personal Statement

Ah, the good old personal statement essay. This essay, which colleges and universities often require for you to submit along with the rest of your application, is often considered a small but mighty contribution. 

Unlike your SAT/ACT scores, GPA, and transcript, the college admissions essay is one of the few pieces of your application where you have the opportunity to tell your story, what makes you tick, and show why you will be a great fit on campus. When reading your essay, college admissions officers generally search to answer the following three questions:

  1. Who is this person? What are they like? 
  2. Will this person positively contribute to our campus? 
  3. Can this person get across their ideas in a succinct, put-together manner?

Therefore, it is crucial to make sure that your essay checks off a few major boxes before you go and hit “submit”.

The text What's your story? appearing behind torn brown paper

Your personal statement should…

1. Be an honest and accurate portrayal of yourself 

While there is certainly never an appropriate time to bend the truth, this is even more so the case when writing your admissions essay. The whole point of the essay is that it is supposed to show admissions officers the “true you”. Officers are looking for proof that you possess the qualities of a strong and qualified applicant (think: empathy, perseverance, creativity, etc), so be sure that whatever story you tell highlights your strengths! 

2. Have a concrete theme (though you don’t need to reinvent the wheel)

One common misconception about the college admissions essay is that you need to write about a HUGE time or event that completely altered your life and the entire universe. This is far from the truth! While your topic or story does not have to be about something so big, it should be something that is personally important to you. Regardless of the topic you choose to write about, you should be writing with a clear theme and message in mind that wraps your story together. 

3. Show, not tell 

If you are writing about a certain summer job you had and how it impacted you, the one thing you should AVOID doing is plainly stating what you did and the impact it had. Be specific in telling your story, and explain the significance of the job through the details. Your goal should be to write as if you are allowing the reader to physically be in the room with you, witnessing what you went through in those moments. If you feel that this is an area you may need help with, your English teacher can likely provide some extra tips and tricks! 

4. Be free of FLUFF 

Because the essay is generally limited to 500 words, every single word counts! This means that you must be extremely careful to ensure that you are only including words and sentences that are relevant to telling your story. This is where it is important to differentiate between information that is crucial for the admissions officer to know (so that they can fully understand your story) and information that might be helpful to know but will not “make or break” the overall message. 

5. Entice the reader from the very first sentence

Although it depends on the size of the school and how many applications are received, it is safe to say that admissions officers read A LOT of essays (think: hundreds, or even thousands!). Because of the sheer volume of essays they receive, it is your job to differentiate yourself as much as possible through your style and story from the very first sentence! Starting your essay with something along the lines of “Once upon a time…” or “Five years ago, my life changed forever” is probably not going to make you stand out. Get creative with your introduction to get your readers hooked!

6. Be free of cliches 

This one goes along with the fact that admissions officers read so many essays each season. You want to avoid making your essay sound predictable, and you certainly don’t want your admissions officer to roll their eyes at a play on words you made that is corny or overused. Since you are trying to prove to your readers that you are going to bring a fresh and new perspective and ideas to campus, make this evident through your style.

7. Be well planned, edited, and proofread

Imagine you sit down one Saturday and decide to tackle your college admissions essay. You spend the next few days thinking about ideas, planning, writing a draft, and then you submit it. What is wrong with this picture? The answer is a lack of editing and proofreading before submission! You may spend a sufficient amount of time brainstorming and planning your essay, but that won’t matter in the end if you submit an essay full of spelling or grammar mistakes. Therefore, it is important to make yourself a checklist before you get writing so that you don’t forget to spend an ample amount of time planning, editing, and proofreading your essay before you submit it. 

Now that we have covered the essentials of what your college admissions essay SHOULD include, let’s touch on a few important and common questions that students tend to ask

Does my personal statement have to be exactly 500 words?

The answer is, it depends! Some prompts might specify that your essay should be “at least” 500 words, while others may say something like “In 500 words, tell us a story about a time when…”. The general rule of thumb is that if the prompt says something like “at least” or “no more than” 500 words, be sure to adhere to those borders. However, if the prompt does not specify, then you should aim to be as close to 500 as possible, but don’t worry about hitting it exactly on the dot. 

What kind of tone does my essay need to have?

Students tend to get the idea that your personal statement essay must be the most professional-sounding and seriously written piece of work in their repertoire. This is not the case! While it should sound polished and it should definitely be edited and proofread, the tone of your essay can be whatever you feel like will get the message across the best. After all, you want admissions officers to hear your voice through your writing. 

How unique does my topic have to be?

While it would certainly be to your benefit to write about something that is unique to you, if nothing terribly unique comes to mind in your brainstorming, consider writing about a pivotal event or experience in your life, but doing so with a unique or uncommon approach. 

In conclusion… 

While the 500-word essay, or personal statement, may seem daunting, it certainly does not have to be if you save yourself an adequate amount of time to brainstorm, draft, write, edit and proofread before submitting. Ultimately, your essay should be 100% unique to you, and it should help admissions officers gain a better idea of what kind of person you are and what you bring to the table. Therefore, your essay should sound like it is written by YOU, and not by a robot or third source. Remember that while there is no “correct” structure, format, or tone that you must write your essay in, at the end of the day, it should tell a true and engaging story that shows your personality and who you are. Now that you have the tools and knowledge to write a killer 500-word essay, happy writing! 

(Bonus resource: If you are looking for some inspiration to get your creative juices flowing, check out these 26 Outstanding College Essays!)

If you liked this post, check out these other articles related to college:

How to Get Involved in College

10 Extracurricular Activities that Look Great on College Applications 

Other Recommended Reading

Want to Study in the US? Read this.

I have spoken to a LOT of students (mostly through Instagram, but also through my office hours sessions) who have requested I post more information and resources for those of you who want to study in the US.

So, if you're a student currently living in a country other than the United States, and you are considering (or already planning on) coming here to pursue your higher education degree (whether it's undergrad or grad), you've come to the right place.

FULL DISCLAIMER: As someone who attended college in the US as a US citizen and non-international student, I am definitely no certified guru on all of the ins and outs of what goes into this process.

However, I have been doing a fair bit of research on this over the last few weeks per your requests, so now I want to share the wealth of my findings with you here!

Without further ado, below, I will outline the general process of everything you need to know in order to prepare to and successfully study in the US.

Preparing to study in the US

Start with some basic research

First things first, you're going to want to start by doing some research on the schools that you might be interested in attending. If you are interested in coming to the US for your undergraduate degree, it is recommended that you start this process anywhere between 12 and 18 months prior to when you would start your first semester.

You'll want to start the process by making sure that the schools you are looking at are certified by the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). You can do this by heading to this school search.

Luckily, there are literally thousands of schools on this list, so I am positive that you will have no problem shortlisting at least a few after you've narrowed down your criteria.

Speaking of narrowing down your criteria, if you want to make this process as seamless as possible, you'll likely want to answer a few of these questions below  to help you get started and pick some schools:

*Why do I want to study in the US?

1) what type of program am I interested in?

2) will I need financial assistance, and if so, how much?

3) what are the specific deadlines for the schools I am interested in?

4) is there any specific area of the country that I want to study in?

5) what type of school do I want to attend (for example, a large public university or a small private college, a city school, or a rural campus?)


Look into the financial aspect

After you've answered hopefully all of these questions, you can look to the next step, which is focusing on how you are going to finance your degree.

Your education, like a lot of other things, is an investment in your future, so it is of the utmost importance that you spend a considerable amount of time assessing your options financially and factoring cost into the equation as you think about what schools you're interested in.

It's no secret that studying in the US can be expensive. However, it doesn't necessarily have to be. Location is one thing you will definitely want to keep in mind here. Certain schools are notably more expensive than others because they are located in areas with a high cost of living.

If you know that you are on a budget, consider focusing your research on public universities (they tend to be less expensive than private schools) that are located in more suburban or rural areas, as opposed to bustling cities.


Dive deeper into finances with this tool!

Also on the topic of finances, as an international student looking to study in the US, you, unfortunately, cannot apply for the FAFSA or federal aid. However, lots of US colleges and universities offer generous scholarships and tuition opportunities to international students.

This great resource allows you to search through these opportunities and offerings based on degree level, US state, and location. I suggest you use this tool to look up the opportunities that all of the schools you are interested in have to offer.

PS - the easiest way to keep track of all of this information is definitely through a spreadsheet. I definitely recommend creating one where you can keep track of all the financial information you find about the schools you want to apply to, so you can eventually compare!


Now, onto the admissions process

Now that we've gotten some of the finance stuff out of the way, we can focus more on the actual admissions process.

Since the majority of you who have reached out to me have been asking specifically about undergraduate degrees, I'm going to walk you through some key pieces of the undergraduate admissions process, highlighted directly from the EducationUSA website:

  • Educational credentials: This is typically your secondary/high school diploma and transcripts, as well as any final national exams required in your country. Transcripts are certified copies of your educational record, courses, and grades. An original transcript or certified copy sent by your secondary/high school is generally required for each institution you apply to for admission, along with translations into English.
  • Standardized test scores: Scores may be required to assess your academic ability and English proficiency level.
  • Recommendation letters: The head or principal of your school, your school counselor, your personal tutor, teachers, coaches, or supervisors from professional experiences may write recommendation letters. Your recommenders must be able to write about your work and be able to assess your potential to do well pursuing a higher education degree. Be sure to choose someone who knows you well.
  • Essay/personal statement: This is your chance to write about your interests, long-term goals, and strengths – one of the most important aspects of your application.

One thing I additionally want to note is that each US college and university has its own specific set of application requirements, so be sure to check on each school's website to make sure you have everything you need to apply!


Now, you're ready to apply for your visa

Once you have gone through the admissions process and you have been accepted to the school(s) you applied to, you can look into the next step, which is applying for your visa.

Along with your acceptance to a school, you will receive what's called a Form I-20, or "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status". After you receive this form, you then must pay a fee (called an I-901 SEVIS Fee) so that you can be issued a visa. If you do not pay this fee, you cannot go through the visa process, so make sure you pay it!

The proper visa for students coming to study in the US through an undergraduate program is the F-1 visa. This page highlights everything else you will need to guide you through the visa application process.

Last, but certainly not least...


Once your visa is fully processed, you can continue to prepare (mentally, emotionally, AND financially) to head over to study in the US! Speaking of financial preparation...

Hopefully whatever school you end up deciding to enroll in has some decent scholarship and financial aid opportunities to help you fund your education.

But, I would be remiss to leave out the importance of applying for outside (private organization) scholarships from this post!

These scholarships can be a great way to help supplement any of the aid that you receive from your school itself.

If you're not sure where to get started with applying for these types of scholarships, I recommend you start by heading over to my blog post on Scholarships for International Students.

After that, take a look through my database of scholarships to find other opportunities that you might be a good fit for.

So with that, I think I have covered pretty much everything there is to know (on a somewhat high level) about studying in the US. Happy researching, applying, and attending!

Other Recommended Reading

What Biden’s Student Loan and College Tuition Plans Entail and How You Could Be Impacted

The COVID-19 pandemic has successfully inserted itself into essentially every aspect of our lives at this point, and unfortunately, it has mostly not been for the better, although any optimist will likely be quick to highlight those few gold nuggets and silver linings.

One particular area of the population that has been struggling to navigate these turbulent times is the area containing prospective, current, and recently graduated college students. With the costs of higher education only on the rise and the rough circumstances of the pandemic leaving millions of people jobless or furloughed until further notice, families are struggling to come up with the funds to pay for or pay off college-related expenses.

Enter all the news on newly-elected president Joe Biden’s plans and proposals to both provide some much-needed relief to those being weighed down by the burden of thousands in student loans while also lowering the costs of tuition for many current and future college students.

In this post, I will highlight several areas of Biden’s currently enacted and proposed plans as they relate to student loans, college tuition, and higher education in general. Keep reading for the tea!


To start, an extension of student loan payment forbearance 

During his first day in office, President Joe Biden made the move of extending student loan payment forbearance to September 30, 2021, a decision made primarily due to the pandemic and its detrimental impact on millions of Americans.

Essentially, this means that the majority of federal student loan payments are on pause, and any new interest on loan balances will be waived.


Student loan debt is getting wiped out for almost 15 million borrowers 

In addition to this push back on the date, Biden and his team are also pushing for an immediate canceling of $10,000 of student loan debt for all, a move which would “wipe out debt completely for nearly 15 million borrowers who owe $10,000 or less” (Nerd Wallet).

Along with the immediate $10,000 cancellation, Biden has also recommended that federal student debt should be completely canceled for borrowers who attended a public college or university and currently earn less than $125,000.

One important thing to note about this recommendation is that it does not apply to graduate school tuition.


A revised income-driven repayment plan 

Essentially, Biden’s revised plan proposes that borrowers would not have to start paying back their loans until they earn an annual income of over $25,000.

Once borrowers earn over this number, their repayment plan would then cap at 5% of disposable income, a much more reasonable number than the current options, in which the minimum is set at 10% of disposable income.

Not only is Biden proposing to make monthly student loan payments more reasonable, but he is also pushing to make it so the remainder of your student loan balance will be automatically forgiven after 20 years of payments.

This is in comparison to current repayment plans, which offer forgiveness after 20-25 years of payments.

More money from Federal Pell Grants

Students whose family incomes are less than $60,000 per year are eligible for either some or all of a Federal Pell Grant, which is currently worth $6,345.

While this is a great help, it still leaves quite a bit of tuition and expenses on the table for the majority of students attending four-year colleges.

Biden hopes to increase this number while simultaneously loosening the eligibility rules so that Pell Grants can be given out to more “middle-class” students.

Source: Student Aid

Free college tuition, say what?!

Perhaps the most noteworthy part of Biden’s plan is his proposal to make undergraduate tuition-free for students who fall into the following areas:

1) if you attend a public college or university and your family income is below $125,000 (4 years tuition-free)

2) if you attend a community college (2 years tuition-free), and

3) if you attend an HBCU or a tribal college or university (2 years tuition-free).

Students should note that these free college tuition plans do not include non-tuition expenses such as room and board, textbooks, and other fees.

How do Biden's current and proposed plans might impact YOU?


So, I’ve covered quite a bit of information regarding Biden’s current and potential future plans of action as they relate to student loans and college tuition.

I’d be remiss to end this post without quickly elaborating on exactly how these current and future plans can actually impact you! Here’s the lowdown…

If you are a college graduate and you have debt - congrats! Well, not about the debt, but because Biden’s extension of student loan payment forbearance means that if you are not currently in the position to be paying off your student loans, then you can put that worry on the back burner for a few more months.

Lots of people have been asking questions along the lines of “If I am still in a position to be paying off some of my student loans during these difficult times, should I be doing so?”.

Since I am very admittedly no financial expert, here is a little nugget of advice that I found while perusing Student Aid’s section on Student Loan Payment Forbearance:

“Continuing to make payments during the payment suspension could help you pay down your loan balance more quickly because the full amount of a payment will be applied to principal once all interest accrued prior to March 13, 2020, is paid.

You may either leave your loans in the “administrative forbearance” status (meaning the requirement to make payments is suspended) and make payments anyway, or opt out of the administrative forbearance/suspension of payments and continue to make payments.”

- (

If you’re looking for a more in-depth answer, I highly suggest clicking the hyperlink above and reading through all of the Q & A’s on COVID Forbearance and how it all works. If you have any other questions that Student Aid has not covered, be sure to reach out to your specific student loan servicing company to get those clarified.

If you are a current college student - Now, if you are still enrolled as an undergraduate student at a college or university, unfortunately, Biden’s current plans and hopeful proposals in relation to paying off student loans don’t quite impact you just yet.

Usually, you are not required to start paying off student loans until an average of 6 months after you have actually graduated, so even if you’re a college senior graduating this May, Biden’s extension likely won’t impact you too much either, unless it gets extended again of course!

If you are a future college student - Pay close attention to the latest news and updates on Biden’s plans to hopefully expand the eligibility rules for students qualifying for federal Pell Grants as well as information on actually transitioning to making college tuition-free for students under certain circumstances.

In Conclusion...

So, quite a bit of information has been unpacked here! At the end of the day, it is crucial to ensure that you are keeping up to date with these plans (both ones that are in effect and future ones) and how they might impact you, on an immediate level but also for months and years to come. 

How To: Craft Your Dream Career

Throughout the month of December, I teamed up with my friend Yamini over at Hallo to put on a series of virtual events all dedicated to Leveling Up Your Lifestyle in 2021. One of the events was all about how to craft your dream career. In this workshop, we discussed a wide range of topics, all related to how to identify possible career paths and how to get started with turning those dreams into a reality.

In this short post, I am going to highlight some of the key points and major takeaways from our discussion, as well as provide links to the presentations and to the virtual event itself so you can watch it later, in case you missed it!

Craft Your Career

Key discussion points

The term career is quite a broad one.

Generally, it is the part of your life that is related to employment, and the sum of the various jobs you have held/will hold throughout your life, and it’s completely what you make of it.

A great starting point for crafting your dream career is to lead with your strengths. This means:

  • Making a list of your strengths along with areas of improvement
  • Being sure to consult colleagues, professors, friends, and family for unbiased opinions on where your strengths lie
  • Keeping in mind that your strengths and weaknesses can include things such as personality traits, mindsets, and soft skills (not just hard skills!)

Key questions to ask yourself in relation to your career and goals:

  • What do you enjoy? This should include hobbies and what you do in your free time.
  • What are your priorities? Some people prioritize money, others prioritize work-life balance, job security, or career advancement. Decide what yours are!
  • What are your wins thus far? What have you accomplished in your life to date? What are you proud of?
  • What subjects did you gravitate towards in school? Trips down memory lane can be very telling of what you may or may not enjoy in the future.

What makes a “dream” job?

While each person’s dream job or career might look different, these are some of the generally agreed-upon components of any dream job:

  • It’s engaging. 
  • It helps others. 
  • You’re good at it.
  • It lacks major negatives.
  • Supportive colleagues.

Ways to explore career pathways can include:

  • Using the Internet - network on LinkedIn, attend Hallo sessions, read up and watch videos on different industries/career paths
  • Talking to people - informational interviews, job shadows, etc.
  • Seeking exposure - take career assessments, search for jobs, just because!

It’s super important to be constantly searching for ways to build upon and upgrade your skills to be the best you can be.

Some ways to do this include:

  • Take academic classes that fall in line with your interests
  • Supplement your academic learning with outside courses or boot camps
  • Take on all the work experience you can get
  • Read up on topics you’re interested in by subscribing to newsletters and blogs
  • Consider starting up a relevant side hustle

Networking is...

the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.

  • Why it’s important - can lead to business and professional opportunities, and can help you learn more about an industry of interest first-hand
  • Where to start networking - LinkedIn, family, student organizations, campus events
  • With whom - role models, people who work at organizations or in positions you are interested in

At the end of the day…

Do what makes you happy - even if you don't know what that means for your career yet!

Myth or fact?: Only 11% of first-generation, low-income college students complete four-year degrees. 

Unfortunately, this is a fact, but the good news is that America Needs You, aka ANY (pronounced Ay-En-Why) has been on a continuous mission to change this statistic for the better. 

Just over 10 years ago, the organization was created after its founders identified the need to break down the barriers that prevented first-generation college students from successfully graduating and transitioning into the workforce. They realized that, while there are so many great organizations out there who work with helping high school seniors get accepted to four-year colleges, there was just as much of a necessity to help those make sure those same first-gen students completed the next milestone. 

So, if you’re a first-generation college student (or even if you’re not!), keep reading to learn more about ANY - an awesome organization helping out students all across the country


What is the ANY Fellows Program?

The ANY Fellows Program is a 2-year program for “high-achieving, low-income, first-generation college students” that aims to help Fellows to maximize their full potential through focusing on 4 different areas: career development, networking, guided support, and 1:1 mentorship. 

What does the Program entail?

As previously mentioned, there are 4 main components to the ANY Fellows Program. 

Career Development

The Fellows Program follows a highly rated curriculum that covers a wide range of topic areas such as career exploration, college completion, and professional skills development. Throughout the 2-year course of the program, Fellows have the chance to participate in 28 full-day workshops.


Through workshops, career days, and internships/job opportunities, Fellows are given the chance to interact with a diverse range of employers to help them grow their network professionally, academically, and socially.

Guided Support 

ANY provides both academic and personal support for each and every Fellow that is a part of the program. For example, if a student is currently enrolled in community college and is looking to transfer, ANY will help guide the Fellow through that transition and any challenges that may come with it. Also, the program provides Fellows with $2,000 in grants and contributions over the 2-year program, to help them pay for things such as business attire. 

1:1 Mentorship

Finally, and perhaps the coolest part of the program, is the 1:1 mentorship that takes place. Each Fellow is matched with a Mentor Coach, who attends full-day workshops with the Fellow, provides industry insight, and helps the Fellow stay on track both professionally as well as academically.


Am I eligible?

Great question! As per the ANY webpage on eligibility, here are the following requirements that a student must meet in order to be eligible for the program:

  • Neither of my parents/guardians have a bachelor’s degree (from any country)
  • I am a U.S. Citizen, Permanent Resident, or by the application deadline, eligible for full-time and off-campus internships, as well as paid employment opportunities in the United States
  • I am a freshman attending a 4-year university or community college
    • If applying in New York you must attend a CUNY school
    • If attending community college, you must intend to transfer to a 4-year school (ANY provides transfer support)
  • I am in the process of obtaining my first associate’s or bachelor’s degree

How can I get involved?

Amazing news! ANY is currently recruiting for their 2021 Fellow Cohort! If the eligibility requirements above apply to you, or if you know someone who is eligible who may be interested in applying, click here to learn more & apply!

Top Tips and Pieces of Advice for all Students, from US News Higher Education Finance Reporter Emma Kerr

It’s no secret that the world of higher education (think: universities, professors, and students) is going through a rollercoaster of tough times due to the unforeseen circumstances of COVID-19. 

On a daily basis through my role here with Access Scholarships, I have had the opportunity to interact with high school and college students (maybe even you!) from across the country. I have been able to listen to the feelings, stories, and lately, worries of those students about what the future of higher education looks like. 

Aside from fears surrounding navigating college during COVID-19, the other prevailing topic of discussion revolves around everything related to paying for college. To provide some unique insight, tips, and words of wisdom to our students, I thought who better to turn to discuss these topics than US News paying for college reporter Emma Kerr. So, without further ado, here are Emma’s top tips and pieces of advice for all students on paying for college, navigating college during COVID-19, and more.

How-To-Pay-For-College-Animation-Updated (1)

Tip 1: Know your options for paying for college.

As Emma highlighted in our interview, there are two different “buckets” when it comes to paying for college: federal financial aid options (FAFSA, pell grants, federal work-study) and options outside of that (think: scholarships, 529 plans, working part-time jobs, support from parents, etc). 

Bucket one, which features the federal financial aid options, includes things such as the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), Pell Grants, and federal (paid) work-study programs. These options are crucial for students to be taking advantage of since there is no penalty or fee for applying for them and the money-saving potential is high.

Perhaps the largest component of bucket two is the 529 college savings plan. The 529 plan, which is generally started by the parents, is likely one of the earliest actions taken to help plan ahead for paying for the costs of college. According to the Sallie Mae annual study on How Americans Pay for College, (a great resource for students to read and be aware of!) 44% of student college costs are covered by parents income and savings, and more than ⅓ of families used a college savings account such as a 529 plan in 2020. 

In addition to the 529 plan, we have scholarships, which, according to the Sallie Mae study, were the second-largest source of funding for college in 2020 (utilized by 58% of families). Scholarship money, similar to grants, is money that does not have to be repaid, which means it should be another essential starting point for students entering the world of paying for college.

As you can see, there are a lot of options out there when it comes to funding your higher education. To learn more on this tip, Emma highly recommends reading through the Sallie Mae study to get a better idea of your available options and what breakdown will work best for you!

Tip 2: On the FAFSA: Do it early, and do it even if you don’t think you will qualify for financial aid (but especially if you do!).

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) opens on October 1st. As Emma puts it, the FAFSA “opens doors to federal, state, and in many cases, institutional financial aid, so it is probably the most important step you can take when you are thinking about paying for college”.

Potential scholarship and grant aid that can come from filling out the FAFSA is huge. So many students leave that money on the table by completing the FAFSA by the deadline. Some colleges have earlier deadlines than others so students must identify those deadlines and be cognizant of them.

Also, in terms of state aid, depending on which state you live in, the aid can run out, which means it is crucial for students to apply for the FAFSA as early as possible, to ensure that they receive the maximum possible amount.

Tip 3: Look at multiple sources when applying for scholarships.

This is a tip that I myself have mentioned countless times in the past, but it is one that is certainly important enough to be repeated and emphasized time and time again! 

As Emma pointed out during our discussion, there are so many scholarships out there that only receive a handful of applicants each cycle, making them low in competitiveness for students who are looking to earn some extra cash. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance for students to diversify the sources that they use to search and apply for scholarships. Aside from our scholarship directory, US News also has its own robust database of scholarship opportunities for students to search through, and there are dozens of other great online resources for students to use. 

In addition to these online resources, it is also important for students to be searching for scholarship opportunities within their local community (for example, your high school website) as well as through their college or university once they arrive on campus. So, make sure you are covering all possible bases when applying for scholarships to give yourself the greatest chance for success.

Tip 4: Before diving into the college application process, make sure you have a solid understanding of your goals, as well as what you/your family’s current financial situation is like.

Emma elaborated on this tip by stating, “We often hear from sources about the issue of parents and students not communicating and being on the same page about what can be afforded. So, it must start from the place of knowing what you want to get out of college and how much money you have available to achieve that, and then moving on from there,”

With the increasing costs of attending college these days, Emma is certainly correct in her statement. Students must ask themselves some tough, but important questions such as “Is college worth the cost?” and “How much can I afford?”. While the answers to them may be more clear for some students than for others, regardless, asking and solidifying these answers (and making sure all key players are on the same page about them), is crucial before getting too far down the pipeline.

Tip 5: (To add to Tip #4) Students shouldn’t plan to borrow more money than they plan to make in their first year’s salary.

There’s no other way to say it other than that college is expensive. Emma put the process of attending college into perspective when she told me, “You are mortgaging your future”. On the topic of loans specifically (which, as you hopefully already know, must be paid back!), Emma advises students to make sure that they are fully informed in these key areas: what that loan is, how long it is going to take to repay it, what kind of salary you would want to ideally have to carry that loan, and what your goals are for the future beyond higher education. 

It is also worth mentioning that most private loans don’t have forbearance (paying less than normal) or forgiveness (no longer being expected to repay), so it is always suggested to go the federal route first.

Tip 6: Work on building your financial literacy as early as possible.

Students have a tendency to go with the flow when it comes to navigating the college process, understanding costs and benefits, and pinpointing options for paying for college along with identifying long-term goals associated with attending. 

Oftentimes, federal aid packages can be confusing to read or misleading in terms of what is being offered and what you are expected to pay back later on. Therefore, starting early with educating yourself on what your options are and what the fine print means will only benefit you later on!

Tip 7: It matters what your major is.

As I have touched on in previous tips, it is definitely important to identify what you hope to get out of attending college before stepping foot on campus. This doesn’t mean that you need to have your major, long-term career, and full life plan solidified by any means, but it does mean that all students should think long and hard about the major options that are available to them and make the decision that they believe will 1) be a return on the college investment, and 2) lead them to a happy and satisfying career.

Tip 8: Don’t let the high sticker price of your dream school deter you from making that dream come true!

Emma expanded on this tip by saying: “Students should never have a dream school and feel like they cannot access it due to financial constraints. A lot of times, a student or their family will see a huge number on the university’s website and this can be very intimidating. I would suggest that students utilize the net price calculator, which will help to give students a more accurate sense of what they will pay, based on their family’s income level and financial need.”

Tip 9: In terms of navigating college during COVID-19, students must work to recognize what study strategies, daily routines, and patterns for social connection are best for them, especially in terms of mental health.

Although this last tip is not quite related to paying for college, it is certainly an important one that all students of all ages should keep in mind. The pandemic has made so many aspects of our lives more complicated and difficult, so setting aside the time to identify what your needs are and what works best for you (not only in school but in life in general) is crucial. Take this as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and work on doing the things that will maintain and improve your mental health rather than deteriorate it. 

In conclusion, my interview with Emma certainly hit on a wide variety of important topics related to higher education, paying for college, and more. I hope you learned a thing or two while reading this piece, and a big shoutout to Emma for providing such great tips and advice! 

Emma Kerr is a paying for college reporter at US News and World Report.

Introducing Acadium, the Coolest Way to Gain Remote Work Experience

While we mainly focus on scholarships over here at Access, we love to connect you with as many helpful resources as possible. Our team is always excited to partner with awesome companies who have a similar mission of helping you to succeed in all aspects of your life. So, without further ado, I want to introduce our newest partnership with Acadium, the coolest way to gain remote work experience and kickstart your career. 

What is Acadium?

Acadium is a free online resource that provides you with the opportunity to find an apprenticeship across a wide range of disciplines related to the digital marketing space. These 3-month long apprenticeships require a maximum of 10 hours of work each week and are entirely remote, which means you have the ability to expand your options in terms of possible companies to be matched with.

Acadium offers apprenticeships across a wide range of areas.

How does it work?

Start by exploring the potential apprenticeship opportunities on Acadium to see if any of them catch your interest. Then, you will create your free account and profile on Acadium and submit it to their team so they can learn a little more about you. 

Once your profile has been approved, you will have the opportunity to chat with mentors who have open positions and apply if you are interested. After you find a mentor and company that is a good fit for you, you can sign your contract and get working!

I don’t have any work experience. Can I still find an apprenticeship?

Yes! Little to no work experience is required to start an apprenticeship with Acadium. The most sought-after qualities that mentors look for in potential apprentices are strong work ethic, eagerness to learn, commitment, and communication skills. 

Plus, if you are lacking digital marketing experience, Acadium offers completely free online courses that can help to provide you with the foundation knowledge necessary to get started.

Statistics on student satisfaction with Acadium

What are the benefits of doing an apprenticeship through Acadium?

The three main benefits include getting some great mentorship from your company leader, gaining experience in the industry and role you are working in, and finally, being equipped with all of the resources (think: professional network, connections, and skills) you need to help you jumpstart your career. 

There is also the potential for apprenticeships to turn into full-time working positions once you are ready to enter the workforce. Plus, the fact that the entirety of your work experience is remote allows you to complete your apprenticeship from anywhere!

This all sounds great - where can I get started?

Ready to get started? Amazing! Head over to the Acadium site to create your free account and see what’s out there. 

10 Tips on How To Overcome The Winter Blues

The winter blues, along with Seasonal Affective Disorder, are both very real. While there are a lot of things that are great about winter, such as celebrating holidays, eating baked treats, and snow days, it is also a time of year that can be difficult to adjust to, especially since it gets dark so dang early (shoutout to daylight savings time!). If this adjustment is as hard for you as it tends to be for me, keep reading for my top 10 tips on how to overcome those winter blues! 


1. Exercise

While this tip may seem general, I promise that there’s a reason why it’s at the top of this list! Exercise is key to improving your mood and your energy levels because of the endorphins and dopamine that gets released as you move. This means that on those days where it just feels like getting out of bed is next to impossible, mustering up the willpower to get up and move your body is one of the best things you can do. 

In my opinion, the type of exercise you are doing is much less important than the fact that you are just moving in the first place! Some of my go-to activities for wintertime exercise are yoga (Yoga by Adriene is great!) and short workout videos, both of which can be done indoors and don’t require too much space. 

Another benefit of exercise apart from increasing your energy and mood is that it helps to boost your immune system, which in turn makes you less likely to catch a cold or get sick. The final thing I will say about exercise is that it is so important to develop a routine with it - not only does this make you more likely to actually succeed in getting it done, but creating a routine for yourself in whatever way you can also in itself help you to get out of the wintertime funk. 

2. Use a sun lamp

One of the hardest things about winter is the fact that it gets dark much earlier than any of us would like, which in turn makes it super easy to want to just crawl into bed and not move for the entirety of the season. Sun lamps are a great way to combat those hours of darkness. They essentially mimic that bright, summer sunlight in a way that can greatly improve your mood. 

Most companies that make sun lamps suggest using them at the same time each day, for approximately 30 minutes a day in order to reap the benefits as quickly as possible. There are tons of great options out there at various price points. I suggest checking out the results here on Amazon to find the one that will be the best fit for you! 

While I have yet to purchase one for myself, I have more than a few friends who swear by their sun lamps in the wintertime! 


3. Make plans for when the weather will be nice again 

One of my personal favorite ways to get out of the winter funk is to daydream and PLAN trips and things that I can’t wait to do when the winter is over! I’m already a huge planner to begin with, and this type of planning is absolutely no different. This winter, this type of planning for me comes in the form of researching road trips or day trips to take when the weather gets nice and restaurants I want to try when it’s warm enough to sit outside.

Doing the research on its own is exciting, but actually writing down plans, penciling in potential dates, and talking about them with friends are guaranteed to increase your mood!


4. Establish a skincare routine 

This tip for overcoming SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and the general winter blues comes in the form of self-care. I find that in the wintertime, showering at least once (but even sometimes twice per day) and doing face masks are two great forms of self-care that tend to make me feel less like a slug. Especially on days when it gets really cold out and all you want to do is get under the covers, making the effort to get into a hot shower and wash your face or do a mask will leave you feeling both clean and awake! 

This article features a bunch of options for face masks and exfoliators. However, you can certainly also find some good options by going to your local drugstore. My personal favorite face mask is this one, which is not only good for your skin but is super fun to apply - to see what I’m talking about, click here to learn more!). Keep in mind though that not all face masks might necessarily be good to apply on a daily or regular basis, so make sure you do your research and reading before buying and applying!

5. Make an uplifting playlist

During the winter, when there tends to be snow, rain, and clouds for days and weeks at a time, it can be easy to turn on the slow and sad music and get caught up in that mood. So, one conscious effort that I make to try to reverse that mood is to work on my playlists. I’ve found that making playlists with uplifting, energetic, and happy songs, and playing them at certain times of the day (when I wake up in the morning AND when I feel myself getting into that late-afternoon slump) is key to increasing my mood. 

In the event that you aren’t too into curating your own happy playlists, here is a link to one that I made a few years ago that still holds strong for me! On this tip, make sure that you identify the times in the day that you personally start to feel slumped, tired, or moody, and set alarms for yourself for those hours to make sure you get the tunes on. Bonus points if you make time for a mini dance party or singing session - those never hurt either!


6. Connect with friends

This is a go-to tip for overcoming the winter blues during ANY winter season, and it only applies even MORE as we approach this upcoming one. Make a point to text, call, or facetime at least one friend or family member each day. Take the time to catch up with one another, check-in to see how one another is doing, and even just have a laugh. 

One great way that I have been staying connected with friends is by planning monthly and weekly game nights or movie sessions. Spending virtual time with friends by surrounding it around specific “events” is great because then you can actually have something to look forward to other than just catching up about your day or your week. In one of my recent posts, I highlight 5 awesome plugins to install on your browser, and one of them, Teleparty, is an awesome way to watch shows and movies “with your friends”. Highly recommend it!

7. Create a sleep routine, and stick to it 

One of the hardest things about it being dark for so many hours each day during the wintertime is that getting out of bed can get difficult, which can definitely be conducive to sleeping in. So, one of the best things you can do to avoid sleeping through the whole season is to create a specific routine for yourself. For example, maybe during the week you try to be asleep by 11pm and awake by 8:30am, and then on the weekends you allow yourself to sleep in a bit more (but not the whole day!). 

Setting this type of schedule for yourself is a helpful way to regulate the amount of time you spend in bed. Also, by spending less time in bed, you are probably spending more time doing productive things, which is always a plus!


8. Bundle up and get outside 

All right, I know depending on where you live, the winter months can get to be unbearably cold. However, I cannot stress enough the importance of getting outside, even if it’s only for 10 or 20 minutes each day. 

Bundle up and put on your layers and go for a quick walk (maybe listen to some music or put a podcast on) or even just run some errands. Not only is it good to get your body up and moving, but your body and your brain will also thank you for getting some necessary natural sunlight. Soak up that Vitamin D!! PS - even if it's cloudy out, still get outside, because sunlight is sunlight! 

9. Start a project

The winter months can be a wonderfully convenient time to get yourself knees deep in a project of any kind, mostly because it gives you something to do in those off hours when you’re not working or studying to help you keep your eyes open once it gets cold and dark out. 

You may be wondering what kind of project I am referring to for this tip. However, I purposely left it to be general because there is very much an endless number of possibilities for projects you can pursue! If you are not sure where to start, heading to Pinterest is always one of the first places I go to look for inspiration for new art projects. 

Maybe you want to make a collage from photos that you have collected throughout the past school year, or you have a wall in your room that could really use some color. One project that I just recently started is painting and personalizing skateboard decks. I made one as a collage with some personal memories I have collected, and another I am still in the process of painting right now.


If you’re not necessarily an “artsy” type person, fear not! Like I said, personal projects come in all shapes and sizes. Some other ideas are to look into taking an online course in a subject or topic you are interested in, or start a “passion project” if you have a business idea that you have been thinking about for a while. Here is a great article on reasons why you should start a passion project (sometimes also interchangeably called “side hustles”) 

Another option if you have some free time and are looking for some remote work experience is to sign up for a free apprenticeship through Acadium. Apprenticeships are unpaid, part-time (around 10 hours per week), and generally last around 3 months, with some of the pros being you get to work closely with your assigned mentor on their business, create great connections, and even set yourself up for a full-time job once the program is over! For more info on Acadium, head to their website here


10. Make a movie list, and start checking them off! 

Last, but certainly not least, is to make a list of movies and/or TV shows that you have been wanting to watch and like I said, start crossing them off! I know that when it’s dreary and cold out, the coziest place to be is in bed or on the couch with hot chocolate or something warm and definitely some popcorn or yummy snacks. I can’t say I have many movies on my list yet for this winter, but a few of the shows that I have lined up for December are The Queen’s Gambit and Rake. 

In conclusion, these are just 10 of the many tips for overcoming the winter blues and even symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). If you’ve made it to the end of this post and you’re looking for even more related resources, be sure to check out our new Health & Wellness resources page! 

5 Awesome Plugins to Install on your Browser, ASAP

Hey everyone! Don’t ask me why, but I’ve been spending a lot of time lately just thinking about all of the things that I currently use or could be using to make my life more organized, more interactive, and overall, just better. So, over the past week, every time I use something, whether it’s technology (like a plugin, for example ;)), a specific website or resource, or a product, I have been challenging myself to take note of it so that I can share all of the resources and things that help ME with all of you! Like I’m sure goes for most of you students, I pretty much spend at least 8 hours a day sitting at my desk on my computer. Therefore, it hasn’t been difficult for me to rack up this quick list of some awesome internet plugins to install on your computer! 

How Grammarly reviews your work

Plugin 1. Grammarly

This was (I think) the first plugin that I installed on my browser, and it never lets me down! If you are someone who likes to type out long paragraphs of notes or information and then go back to editing later, Grammarly is great because it automatically underlines all of your grammar and spelling errors so you can easily go back and check. It’s also great for when you’re sending emails because you don’t have to worry about sending something off with a typo or grammatical error. Also, if you write something and you’re not sure how it sounds (maybe it’s a bit too wordy or just sounds awkward) Grammarly will suggest options for words to switch out to make it more succinct and professional. 

Grammarly has a free version and a premium version. The premium version, if you’re interested, offers features like tone adjustments, plagiarism detection, word choice, and a few other cool things. I have been using the free version for the entire time I have had the plugin and it is perfect for what I need it for.

Teleparty synced up in action!

Plugin 2. Teleparty

This plugin is awesome. It used to be called Netflix Party, but even with a new name, it still has the same awesome features! Basically, it allows you to sync up your Netflix with your friends so you can watch shows or movies together. Now, it has been updated to Teleparty, which is great because you can sync up with your friends and watch shows or movies on multiple platforms, including Disney Plus, Hulu, and HBO. When you use the plugin (which by the way, can host up to 50 people in one “room”), your screens all sync up with one another so you don’t have to worry about someone ruining that intense scene or plot twist for you. Some might find this a bit distracting, but I also love that there is a chat feature on the side of my screen so I can talk with my friends about what’s going on as we’re watching.  

Teleparty has been an absolute lifesaver for my social life, in general, but especially during lockdown when it’s been difficult to meet up and spend time in person with friends. I highly recommend it! 

StayFocusd allows you to temporarily block distracting websites

Plugin 3. Stay Focusd

This next plugin is one that I cannot say I’ve used, although I have a similar program downloaded onto my computer called Self-Control which does the same job. BUT, in this article, I’m focusing on plugins, so here we are! This plugin helps you to stay focused and productive by allowing you to temporarily block or limit the amount of time that you spend on distracting websites. 

For example, the websites that tend to distract me the most when I am supposed to be sitting down and WORKING are Facebook and Reddit. So, what I would do is allow myself only 30 minutes a day combined on both of those websites. Then, once the time is up, I will be forced to focus on my work! Think of it like Screen Time on an iPhone but for your browser. 

Stay Focusd has 600,000+ users and over 7,000 reviews on Google Chrome with an average rating of 4.5 stars. Pretty good, in my opinion! 

An example of what one of my daily Momentum pages looks like!

Plugin 4. Momentum

While I can’t say that Momentum is the most helpful plugin out there, it’s still a must-have for your browser. It replaces your “New Tab” with a gorgeous photo accompanied by a motivational quote, all of which is guaranteed to do one or more of the following: 1) daydream about where you want to travel to next, 2) feel a sense of calm, 3) get you inspired. Also what I love about it is the ability to make it personal by adding your name. When I wake up in the morning and shuffle over to my computer with literally half an eye open, usually the first thing I see is “Good morning, Ayden” which feels both personal and professional. 

Another feature of Momentum that I sometimes use is the to-do list, which is just a little popup tab on the screen that allows you to keep track of the tasks you want to get done for the day. It’s definitely good for jotting down mini reminders, but I definitely prefer to stick to my physical journal (and Google Calendar and for more in-depth and weekly planning.

How Tab Snooze allows you to literally "snooze" your tabs

Plugin 5. Tab Snooze

The final plugin that I want to highlight is one called Tab Snooze. If you are anything like me, you probably have multiple different browsers up at any given day or time, each with their own set of tabs. Even if you aren’t like me (meaning you actually have the ability to close tabs instead of keeping them up for weeks and weeks on end), this plugin is still a great way to help you stay organized and make sure that you don’t accidentally X out of something important. 

Tab Snooze allows you to save articles, videos, and todos for later on. And when I say later on, I mean that you can specify if you want to be reminded about said article, video, or to-do later that day, tomorrow night, over the weekend, repeatedly, or you can pick your own date. Once the time or day that you have specified has come, the plugin will ~gently~ remind you that it’s back for when you need it. 

So, those are the 5 plugins that I highly recommend every student (and person in general) have downloaded onto their browser! They are a perfect mix between helping you stay productive, organized, inspired, and distracted (when you need it)! 

ICYMI: Top Tips, Tricks, & Takeaways from the Access x Hallo Instagram Takeover

Hey everyone!! Ayden here. Since I’m sure that not all of you were able to tune into my recent takeover of Hallo’s Instagram, I figured I would sum up everything that was discussed to keep you all in the loop (the FOMO is real, I know ????). So, here’s the recap! 

About me…

My name is Ayden! I graduated in May from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I majored in marketing and human resource management. Soon after graduation, I hopped on the opportunity to help create Access Scholarships! One of my favorite things about the work I do with Access is that I get to talk to and help students every day, which is extremely rewarding considering I was literally just a student myself and I know how hard it can be! 

On the topic of job searching… 

In a recent article I wrote for Hallo’s blog, I discussed the difficulties of balancing trying to find a job during the pandemic with trying to live up to my own high expectations for myself. I was constantly getting frustrated with my lack of success and spent a crazy amount of time stressing out. 

My tips and advice for you when it comes to job searching:

  1. Don’t underestimate the importance of networking throughout your college career! Whether it’s with professors, people at your internship or part-time job, or anyone else you meet, make sure to stay in touch! These connections and relationships you form are crucial when it comes to branching out in the professional world and can even help you get your foot in the door when you’re looking for opportunities
  2. Cut yourself some slack! I know it can be difficult to do at times, but it’s so important to remember that, especially considering everything that’s going on now, you deserve a break. Take time to do the things you enjoy, whatever they are. All about the balance! 
  3. When applying to jobs, be sure to tailor your resume so that it is specific to each job that you are applying to. The more specific, the better! For more tips on this, check out this blog post.

On the topic of scholarships…

4 things you’ll want to keep in mind throughout the process:

  1.  Creating a SMART goal for your scholarship search is super important. For those of you who are not familiar with the acronym, smart stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. An example of a SMART goal would be: to apply for 10 scholarships specific to my major every month, with the goal of paying for my college textbooks and school supplies. 
  2. It is super important to have a few reliable sources for searching and applying for scholarships. Besides the Access Scholarships platform, another good option is to reach out to professors in your major or heads of the department asking them about major-specific scholarships within your program. 
  3. Make a point to stay organized! This is definitely one key to success when it comes to applying for scholarships. When I was applying, I created an excel spreadsheet where I could keep track of the ones I wanted to apply to, the ones I was working on, and the ones I had already submitted. Additionally, I suggest making a folder with all of your basic information such as transcripts and resume so that it’s always handy. 
  4. Other things to keep in mind:
    1. Think outside the box - don’t just apply to scholarships that are specific to people in your major. Think about your hobbies and other interests - it’s likely that you can find scholarships for those too!
    2. Start the process as early as possible (hint: it’s never too early!)
    3. Be persistent - I know applying for scholarships can seem daunting and it is tough, but don’t give up! 

On the pandemic…

I know right now is such a crazy time for all of us with the pandemic and all, and if you’re living with your parents like me (or even if you’re not), you know how wild of a time it can be. So I want to give you all with some of my tried and tested tips on how to stay sane especially if you’re balancing school with the world right now! 

My tips:

  1. Regardless of where you are, establish your own space to do you (doesn’t matter how big or small, but it’s just important that you have a space to yourself to relax and unwind!) Check out this blog post for more tips on perfecting your Study From Home space.
  2. Importance of creating a routine and making time for the things you enjoy 
  3. Talking to at least one friend or family member each day (on facetime is ideal, bonus points if you meet up for a socially distant hangout!) can do wonders for your mental health 

Q & A from the Takeover

  • How to adult in college:
      • How to get internships? 
        • Stay organized, research the companies you are applying to, take the time to practice for your interviews, and be genuine!! 
      • Making friends in college?
        • Definitely more difficult now because of covid, but one thing I would suggest is to get involved in activities on campus that you enjoy because then you can meet people with similar interests. If you are doing class online this semester, don’t be afraid to join a club virtually and branch out to people that way! 
      • Time management with back to back due dates?
        • COLOR CODING my planner is one of my favorite activities. When I used to have a lot of deadlines close together, I would block out certain parts of my day with different colors to represent the time I’d spend studying for each subject, worked like a charm! 
      • How to excel at college apps + essays! (Tips, tricks, and general guidelines)
        • Stay organized with your college apps! I just posted a great printable resource on the Access website to help students with this. 
        • In terms of essays, your topic does not have to be the biggest thing since sliced bread, it’s just important that you write about it in a unique way that tells the admissions committee more about you. 
  • Scholarships:
      • How to find scholarships people don’t know about?
        • Don’t just apply to the big, popular ones. If you find scholarships that are as specific as possible in terms of major and qualifications, it is likely that fewer people will know about and be applying to them.
      • How to finance college without scholarships/grants? 
        • Definitely a lot of ways to pay for college, including getting a part-time job, joining a work-study program, and taking out loans, but with that one, I definitely wouldn’t recommend taking out more than you need! 
      • How is it decided who gets a scholarship?
        • While it depends on the scholarship, most organizations pick a winner by looking at a few different areas such as GPA and test scores, essays, and letters of recommendation if they were necessary. 
        • Talking about GPA specifically, since we get a lot of questions about this, I’ll say that the majority of scholarships out there require a 3.0 as a minimum, so the higher above 3.0 you can get, the better! 
  • College Qs:
    • How to pick a good college for you? 
      • A lot of factors to consider: When I was applying to college, I essentially made a list of my “non-negotiables” and evaluated each school I looked at based on that criteria. some of the major questions you might want to ask yourself are:  
        • Do they have a good program for my intended major?
        • Do I want a big school, a small school, or something in between? 
        • What is the cost of tuition? 
        • Where is it located? 
        • Does it have club and extracurricular opportunities that fit my interests and goals?
    • How many colleges should I apply to? 
      • Most students apply to somewhere between 7 and 10 schools (a few safety schools, a few targets, a few reaches), but every person is different! 
    • What are the benefits of early decision?
      • 1. Generally a higher chance of getting accepted! 
      • 2. #1 generally leads to less stress in your senior year (yay)!

There you have it! If you enjoyed the takeover/liked this content, follow us on Instagram for more ????