How to Pay for College & Graduate DEBT FREE

I only applied to one school - Howard University. Thankfully, I was accepted!  My Mom was happy for me but asked me how I planned on paying for it.  I thought, "that’s a great question"...  Howard did not give me a penny of scholarship money and my family didn’t have the means to pay for my whole degree.  And of course, I wanted to avoid loans at all costs. If you’re in a similar situation – this is what you do:

1.       Start searching for scholarships EARLY

The acceptance letter came around Christmas time of my senior year and on January 1st I was searching for scholarships. My Mom helped by sending me any scholarships she found.  Be sure to search for your local scholarships as well. I received scholarships from local banks, churches, and Sorority chapters.

Here are some sites to get you started. Most are catered toward HBCUs:

2.       Have a support system who will edit your essays

My Mom, my teachers, and my peers would read over my essays to determine what was missing or to see if there were any grammatical errors.

3.       Be sure to clearly answer the prompt

It’s easy to go on a rant in your essays so make sure you’re clearly answering the question. Ask yourself if your response is unique and will set you apart from others. Be able to clearly articulate why you need this money!


After searching aggressively and writing multiple essays, I was able to pay for most of my freshman year at Howard with outside scholarships. DO NOT GIVE UP. You will not win every scholarship you apply for. However, the key is to apply. You might think that tons of people are applying but, many people get discouraged from applying because they don’t believe they have a shot.

After you get your freshman year figured out – the key is being able to STAY.  Too many people that I know had to leave college because they couldn’t afford it.


4.       Continue to apply for outside scholarships but also look internally

I did well my freshman year and was accepted into the honors program which offered to pay half of my tuition for sophomore – senior year. PHEW! See if your programs have any rewards for high performance.

  • Look into any need-based grants your University might offer
  • Visit your departments office frequently to see if any scholarships are being offered
  • Make a weekly trip to your financial aid office to see if they’ve posted any new scholarships
  • Seek scholarship opportunities in the organizations you’re involved in on campus


I’ve probably applied for over 100 scholarships and a lot of them have similar prompts. After you’ve written a few winning essays it’s easy to pull from them to piece together the perfect response for another scholarship. I used an essay I wrote for my AP language arts class in high school and it won me $10,000 three years later!

6.       Find the perfect college job(s)

Many students don’t think they can handle school full time and a job.  But I’ve learned it’s all about the kind of job you get. My freshman year I got a job as a hostess at a restaurant that was walking distance from my dorm. I ended up working here until junior year. I only worked weekends and they allowed me to work during the school year as I interned elsewhere during the summers. It evolved into a public relations internship where I gained a lot of experience in my field.

Since I was only working weekends I decided I could take on another job. I landed a job as a student brand manager at Red Bull! This job was perfect because you fit the work into your everyday life. Definitely look into ambassador roles. I worked there from sophomore year to senior year.

When junior year came around I discovered student employment. I applied for a position within the School of Business so that I could be close to my classes and I could interact with my professors while working. I worked there junior and senior year.

I used the money from my jobs to pay off any outstanding balances or as fun money!  It’s all about balancing your time. (Learn more about time management in my “Can You Have It All” Article)

7.       Look into internship programs that also offer scholarships

Many internships are beginning to attach scholarships to their programs to become more competitive.  I was a part of the Inaugural class of Apple HBCU scholars.  I was able to do a paid summer internship at Apple’s corporate office and they provided a $25,000 scholarship for my senior year of college! After that, I was pretty much set.


I went into my senior year worry-free! Now any money that I saved up in my part time jobs I could use for whatever I wanted (take a guess at what I spent it on 😉).  Even if you don’t meet all the qualifications of a scholarship – still apply. You never know what will happen. There is so much free money out there – GO AND GET IT!