How to Go to College Almost for Free: The Secrets of Winning Scholarship Money

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Make your educational dreams come true!

Worried about how to pay for college? Afraid of drowning in a sea of student debt? Sure, Ben Kaplan once felt that way too. But that was before he discovered that there are billions of scholarship dollars out there for students with all types of interests, skills, and backgrounds. After winning enough college cash to cover virtually the entire cost of his dream school, he's written an indispensable guide ...

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Make your educational dreams come true!

Worried about how to pay for college? Afraid of drowning in a sea of student debt? Sure, Ben Kaplan once felt that way too. But that was before he discovered that there are billions of scholarship dollars out there for students with all types of interests, skills, and backgrounds. After winning enough college cash to cover virtually the entire cost of his dream school, he's written an indispensable guide that shows you how to stake your own scholarship claim.

Now in this fully revised and updated edition, Ben distills his proven step-by-step game plan that positions you to win big money for college -- regardless of your age, GPA, financial situation, or family background. With humor and insight, he reveals insider secrets for successfully finding, applying for, and winning lucrative scholarship awards -- empowering you with the information, inspiration, and know-how to afford the college of your choice and realize your educational dreams.

Special Note: As a valued reader of this book, you also receive access to the Coach's Locker Room at Ben Kaplan's website. The Coach's Locker Room provides a wealth of bonus material, updates to information contained in How to Go to College Almost for Free, question and answer postings, and other helpful resources.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Middle-income parents, take note. Although this resource book addresses all types of students, it focuses in on the vital unrestricted, merit-based scholarships that are not based on need. It's never too soon or too late to take advantage of grant opportunities. Kaplan counsels students to start early -- even the seventh and eighth grades -- lining up grants, but also shows how to get grants if you are already enrolled in college or graduate school. Packed with tips, such as how to present yourself if you are not a stellar student, and straightforward advice, How to Go to College for Almost Free is a financial lifesaver for students.
From The Critics
"If you want to win scholarship money, then go with a winner. Ben Kaplan won several of our scholarships, and many others. His book speaks directly to students in their language, with practical tips and interesting insights into the 'winning attitude.'" — (Rocco Marano, Director of Student Activities National Association of Secondary School Principals)
Publishers Weekly
While still in high school, Ben Kaplan won more than two dozen merit-based scholarships amounting to more than $90,000 in funds for use at any school. After graduating from Harvard magna cum laude in 2001, he self-published How to Go to College Almost for Free: The Secrets of Winning Scholarship Money, selling more than 65,000 copies out of a custom tour bus dedicated to raising awareness about scholarships. Now reissued, his book offers advice on how to find and win money for college, delivered in an energetic and inspiring voice with broad appeal. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kaplan, also known as the Scholarship Coach(tm), knows his stuff cold, with credentials to back him up. He won more than two dozen scholarships totaling $90,000, which he used to earn a degree in economics from Harvard in six semesters. He is a popular radio and television talk show guest, and the number of students who have used his methods successfully is in the thousands. This delightful author's chatty, contemporary writing voice makes the hunt for scholarship money sound like irresistible fun for students and parents looking to tame the frightening costs of higher education. This breezy second edition of Kaplan's invaluable guide is chock full of game plans, advice, strategies, and most importantly, reassuring statements that anyone can be successful in the hunt for scholarship money without feeling overwhelmed by the task. He dispels myths that feel like roadblocks, saying that grade point average, family income, and civic activities are not deal-breakers, and he provides helpful tips for homeschoolers. A whole section is devoted to opening the horizons of scholarship possibilities beyond the well-known, big-name awards to include the most-targeted special interest scholarships. He discusses the criteria scholarship judges use and gives practical advice not only on how to write winning essays but also on how to recycle and customize those essays to be used repeatedly for different scholarship applications. The layout of the book invites readers to follow his advice methodically, and the charming illustrations enhance the sense that scouting for scholarship money can be a game. Most helpful of all is his emphatic assessment that it is never too late—or too early—to startthe hunt. Some advice works for students in junior high school, whereas other strategies are effective for those already in college. Peppered with anecdotes of successful winners who followed his method, Kaplan's book is a must-purchase in the arsenal for affordable higher education. Index. Illus. Charts. Appendix. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, HarperCollins, 378p, $22 Oversize pb. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Beth Andersen

SOURCE- VOYA, April 2002 (Vol. 25, No. 1)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060937652
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/28/2001
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 122,585
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ben Kaplan won more than two dozen scholarships -- amassing nearly $90,000 in unrestricted college cash for use at any school. In 1999, he graduated from Harvard debt-free, with virtually the entire cost of his education covered by his scholarship winnings.

In addition to writing The Scholarship Scouting Report, Kaplan is the author of How to Go to College Almost for Free and Scholarship Seeker’s Toolbox -- the three books forming an essential paying-for-college trilogy for students of all ages. Kaplan has also written numerous articles on winning scholarships, including columns for The New York Times and U.S. News & World Report, that have been syndicated in publications nationwide. He has been featured on hundreds of television and radio programs, including appearances on Oprah, NBC, CBS, and National Public Radio.

Known internationally as "The Scholarship Coach," Kaplan has served as the resident scholarship adviser at some of the Internet’s most popular scholarship search websites, and is the founder of, the leading online scholarship advice portal.

Kaplan currently resides in Portland, Oregon, and can be contacted at via e-mail.

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Read an Excerpt

Let The Games Begin

In the twentysomething movie Reality Bites, a jobless and penniless college valedictorian named Lelaina Pierce (played by the charming Winona Ryder) discovers, among other things, just how much mini-mart food she can buy on her father's gas card. And back in early 1994, when the movie was in theaters, I found myself in a related predicament. No, it wasn't that I shopped at the corner gas station. Nor did I regularly eat Chevron cuisine.

Rather, it was that, as a junior in high school, reality had just bitten me -- and bitten me hard. It happened one day, as I was leafing through glossy college catalogs with dreams of wild collegiate adventures dancing in my head. All of a sudden, I felt the reality of having to pay for my undergraduate education sink its ugly teeth. I hoped to attend a top university, but how would I ever pay the sixfigure tab at the college of my choice? Even if I could somehow cover the cost, was I destined to be buried alive beneath a mountain of student debt?

Granted, this wasn't a memorable scene from a slick Hollywood movie, but still, it was my life. And unlike Lelaina, I didn't have my father's gas card... and even if I did, the corner Chevron station didn't have any diplomas for sale.

Reality Bites... But It Doesn't Have To

A magical gas card never did come to my rescue. But I suppose, in a strange way, a benevolent credit card did save the day. You see, one day at my high school's career center, I came across an application for a nationwide scholarship contest sponsored by the Discover Card corporation. As I held the application in my hands, my mind raced withquestions. Were there a lot of merit-based scholarships like this one? Could I win them? Did a kid from a public high school in Eugene, Oregon actually have a chance? There was probably some child prodigy out there who had mastered calculus at age 5, been an Olympian by 9, and discovered a cure for cancer before hitting puberty.

Despite my doubts, I decided to enter the contest. I diligently filled out the forms, rounded up several letters of recommendation, and crafted some essays. And to my amazement, I actually won! And I won BIG -- to the tune of $17,500. Then I made another fantastic discovery: Plenty of other organizations can't wait to give money away!

So I entered other scholarship contests. I won again! And again! Now don't get me wrong: it wasn't as if I had Just written a couple of essays and suddenly money began magically falling from the sky. In fact, it was a lot of hard work, and I lost my share of scholarship competitions, too.

But through a process of trial and error, I formulated winning strategies, developed foolproof procedures, and concocted "guerrilla tactics." When the dust finally settled, I had amassed nearly $90,000 and had paid for virtually the entire cost of my Harvard education.

Biting Back

So is entering scholarship contests worth the effort? Most definitely! I'm living proof of it. Can you win these contests? You bet! All it takes is a little knowledge and a bit of elbow grease. What's the best way to get started? Read this book!

A few years ago, when I faced the daunting task of trying to pay for my college education, there wasn't anyone out there to show me the ropes. But when I discovered that thousands of organizations give away hundreds of millions of dollars in scholarship prizes, I saw rays of financial hope beckoning meto take up the quest anyway.

Now I can't guarantee that you'll pay for all of your college expenses by winning scholarship contests (for to do so also takes a bit of good luck), but with my guidance plus your hard work and determination I know that we can make a significant dent 1 your financial burden.

Reality may indeed bite, but winning college scholarships can help enterprising students bite back.

I may not have a Ph.D. in Scholarship Science hanging on my wall, but through the process of accumulating my own pot of gold, I have become somewhat of an expertat winning the college scholarship game. And, as you read a few pages ago, winning money for higher education is indeed a game. To succeed you must learn the rules and understand the players. You must internalize the principles, strategies, and guerrilla tactics that lead to victory. It then becomes a matter of preparing, practicing, and perfecting: enhancing your record in key areas, strengthening your self-promotional skills, and refining your application materials. The book you are now holding teaches you how to master this important game.

There is, however, a very odd thing about this particular game: As important as the game is, the referee never even bothers to explain the rules. Sure, scholarship administrators publish formal Judging criteria, but this only scratches the surface of what it really takes to win. There's another entire set of "hidden rules" that govern the outcomes of these contests. So how do you succeed in a game when you're not even sure how to play?

Like any other game, you could try to teach yourself through experimentation. But why "reinvent the wheel" when you don't have to? You can save yourself plenty of time, energy, and grief by learning from the high scorers -- the students who have played the game well. Of course, tracking down enough of these students on your own and convincing them to let you "pick their brains" would be a daunting task in its own right. So I've made it much easier by doing all of the work for you.

As a result, this book not only distills the core secrets learned from my own scholarship quest, but also adds to the mix many valuable insights from dozens of other scholarship winners I've interviewed. (As simple as it sounds, surveying top winners is a task that has never been done before by an author in the field.) By following the advice contained in these pages, you can avoid many of the mistakes these scholarship winners (including myself) have made, and can learn from our greatest successes. Winning scholarships may be a game, but it's a game that can be learned -- and learned quickly, too.

How To Go To College Almost for Free. Copyright © by Ben Kaplan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Let the Games Begin...
Chapter 1: The Playing Field
Knowing the Lingo
Sizing Up the Game
Chapter 1 Summary
Chapter 2: Players & Principles
Who Can Apply?
The Other Players
Exploding 7 Myths
Chapter 2 Summary
Intermission #1: What Parents Can Do To Help
Chapter 3: "Show Me The Money!"
Finding Your Pot of Gold
Searching Internet Databases
Using School Resources
More Web Surfing Secrets
Books & Directories
Community Canvassing
Widening Your Net
Requesting Materials
Chapter 3 Summary
Chapter 4: A Winning Game Plan
Maximizing Your Chances
Setting a Schedule
Chapter 4 Summary
Intermission #2: The Unforgiving Minute (Time Management)
Chapter 5: Painting Your Own Portrait
Knowing the Person
The Painter's Touch
Employing Your Theme
9 Winning Themes
Chapter 5 Summary
Chapter 6: "Hidden" Judging Criteria
The Unseen Evaluators
Ten Golden Virtues
Chapter 6 Summary
Chapter 7: Scoring Points
Content Strategies
Packaging Strategies
Putting It All Together
Chapter 7 Summary
Intermission #3: Creating Opportunities
Chapter 8: Essay Excellence
Principles of Winning Essays
Recycling Essays
Getting in the Flow
Honing Your Essay
Tips for Specific Topics
Short-Answer Questions
Chapter 8 Summary
Chapter 9: Glowing Support Letters
Star Witnesses
Qualities of a Great Letter
Chapter 9 Summary
Chapter 10: Filling In The Blanks
Paperwork Prowess
The Stat Sheet
Activity Lists
Awards & Honors Lists
The Transcript
Additional Materials
Mailing Your Application
Chapter 10 Summary
Chapter 11: Acing the Interview
Interview Mastery
Preparing for the Interview
The Big Day
The Main Event
Chapter 11 Summary
Intermission #4: Being Smart About Your Studies
Chapter 12: Parting Shots
The Home Stretch
Keeping Track of Your Winnings
Slashing Your College Costs
What We've Learned
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Who Should Read This Book

How To Go To College Almost For Free is for any student in search of scholarship money for higher education--including students currently enrolled in high school, vocational school, two- and four-year colleges, and graduate school. The book is also ideal for returning students, interested parents, and younger students wanting to get an early start. Furthermore, the topics covered in this book are of special importance to families caught in the "middle-income financial aid crunch"--the dilemma families face when they have too much income to qualify for substantial need-based financial aid, but not enough money to comfortably pay off high-priced college tuition bills. This book will teach you how to win unrestricted merit-based scholarships--funds awarded on the basis of merit that you can use at the institution of your choice.

If you're a junior or senior in high school, applying the material in this book will help you stake your claim to the cornucopia of scholarships available to you in the next year or two. Indeed, the greatest share of scholarship money is available to students who are about to embark on their college careers.

Likewise, if you're already enrolled in college, but could still benefit from additional funds, then this book is also for you. I'll show you how to stake your claim to the huge amount of scholarship money targeted at college freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Furthermore, the tactics detailed in this book are essential strategies to employ when applying for fellowships, grants, and scholarships for graduate-level work.

And for younger students--high school freshmen and sophomores, as well as middle school students--this book can help provide what could be the most dramatic monetary results. A surprisingly large number of scholarship contests are geared toward younger students. But more important than the immediate scholarship options is the chance for younger students to prepare early and position themselves for scholarship winnings (and other exciting opportunities) in later years. Determined students who, years in advance, make a point of preparing themselves to win future scholarships become favorites to win a bounty of valuable awards. Although I didn't begin my search until late in my junior year, if I could do it all over again, I would start preparing for scholarships as early as my seventh- or eighth-grade year.

The scope of this book is also designed to appeal to students who exhibit a broad range of backgrounds, achievements, and interests. If you've had a rocky academic history, special sections show you how to distinguish yourself in other ways. If you have particular vocational or career goals, the book details creative methods for demonstrating passion and talent in a field. If you've been confronted with significant obstacles in your life, the book shows you how to use these challenges to demonstrate courage and determination, and create a powerfully compelling story in the process. If you attend a high school with fewer opportunities and resources than other schools, the book documents ways to create your own opportunities and piggyback on outside resources. If you're a student hoping to attend one of the nation's most competitive colleges (such as an Ivy League school), the book shows you how to round out your resume and turn your best skills into standout talents.

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Interviews & Essays

Greetings from Oregon! My name is Benjamin Kaplan, and I'm the author of How To Go To College Almost For Free. In writing the book, I've tried to make it the comprehensive guidebook that I wish I'd had when I embarked on my own scholarship quest. The book details the proven strategies, powerful principles, and guerrilla tactics that all scholarship seekers need to know. I've also included plenty of examples, anecdotes, and sample materials to make the book especially useful. And for you parents out there, I've developed special sections that show you how to best help your children win college scholarships (including some insights from my parents, too).

So best of luck on your scholarship quest! Remember, a college education is far too important to settle for the cheapest path. Rebel against those who say that financial constraints make it impossible for you or your child to attend this or that school. Fight back against college budget offices that habitually increase tuition bills, while their financial aid allocations fail to keep up. Steer clear of that dreaded student debt. Winning scholarships changed my life. And it can for you too!
— Benjamin Kaplan

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Customer Reviews

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( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2000

    Great Book

    There is a lot of fantastic information packed into these 300 odd pages. I have already begun my quest for free cash with Kaplan¿s strategies as my guide. What I liked most about this book is the straight forward approach and practical advice that can only come from real experience. Kaplan has truly done for scholarships what those 2 other Harvard graduates (Jim Good and Lisa Lee) did in helping me get into college (Get Into Any College: Secrets Of Harvard Students) and I think this shows how much superior advice from actual students is over that from so-called ¿experts.¿ Maybe the highest complement is that all of this praise for these Harvard authors comes from me ¿ a student at archrival Yale!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2000

    A Truly Outstanding Book

    This book was everything I hoped it would be and more. It is full of information, strategies, examples from winning essays, and is actually fun to read. I've already won a few scholarships, and I'm using the book to win more. This book is the closest thing to a 'school' for winning scholarships, and unless you want to spend countless hours of frustration banging your head against the wall, I suggest you get a copy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2000


    As a parent in need of help in paying college tuition bills for my two children, I was really fortunate to hear about this book. Our whole family has joined in the scholarship search and we're already seeing results. This book has been essential to our efforts because it takes us step by step through the entire process. Without it, we would have missed out on so many scholarship opportunities. I wholeheartedly recommend it for both students and parents.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2000

    Required Reading!

    I recommend this book wholeheartedly. I picked up a copy after hearing the author on the radio, and the book has turned out to be definitely worth every penny. What's great about it is all of the examples from winning scholarship applications. It shows you exactly how winning applications are crafted and specifically what to do to maximize your chances. In fact, it was a lot of help in filling out my college applications too. All guidance offices should get a copy of this book, and it should definitely be required reading for anyone planning to attend or already enrolled in college.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 5, 2009

    For absolutely everyone!

    With our first kid going off to college, we were worried how to pay for it. Our kids are very close in age so cost is a big factor. We also don't think we will be eligible for much financial aid so when we looked at this book, it was a huge relief to us. This book clearly described where, how and when to apply for scholarships, grants and resources for obtaining money through all four years of undergraduate admission. Much of this has to do with persistence and diligence on the part of the parents and the student in finding and maintaining the scholarships but if you are willing to put some elbow grease into getting the money, you could walk away with quite a sum. This book does not describe easy money. You will not get a four year free ride. You have to work for the money but just knowing where to go and the best way to get there is sometimes all you need. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with kids in college.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2000

    Building the Future

    I am a mathematic student from Grand Junction, CO. I am presently attending Palisade High School. I will be attending Mesa State College in fall of 2000. I will be walking on to the Mesa State College's Softball Program, however, I will not be scholarshiped for playing. I will be studing mathematics and computer design.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2000

    Get this book!

    What a great book! I am seriously short of cash for college, and How To Go To College Almost For Free was exactly what I needed. It's extremely informative, easy to follow, and shares advice and tips that I wouldn't of thought up on my own. This is one book that totally lives up to the hype.

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    Posted August 14, 2010

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