“How I Landed A Scholarship To College”

Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, from an early age I knew that college would be the place where I would spread my figurative wings and experience life beyond the confines of my home state. However, I also understood the necessity of receiving financial assistance from scholarships if I wanted to attend an out of state university without placing a substantial financial burden on my family. Therefore, during my senior year of high school, I applied to as many scholarships as I possibly could. Literally, every single one I could find.

“Scholarships swing my wayyyyyyyyyyy” was definitely one of my mottos during this period.

Have you ever heard of “Tinder power hour”? Just a personal disclaimer, I have never used Tinder and am an avid advocate against it and it’s like counterparts; however, a friend of mine informed me that “Tinder power hour” is when guys/girls spend an hour ONLY swiping right to increase their likelihood of matching with someone. Terrible, right?! So, like “Tinder Power Hour”, I spent my senior year of high school applying to just about every scholarship I came across, to increase my likelihood of receiving financial assistance for college.

“I can only imagine looking back now, how much easier and quicker this process could have gone if the App Minorities to Majorities existed when I was applying to undergrad.”

Beyond doing my own research daily online to find scholarships to apply to, I also inquired about scholarships with my high school guidance counselor. I worked closely with her over the course of my senior year.

I encourage students of all grades in high school to cultivate relationships with their school’s guidance counselorsThey can provide incredible information on opportunities and all around career path advice.

My guidance counselor informed me of the Gates Millennium Scholarship, and insisted that I would be a great candidate for this scholarship. So of course, I applied. I am a firm believer in the saying,

“You miss 100% of the shots, you don’t take.”

The competitive side of me, cultivated from being a three-sport varsity athlete at the time, couldn’t dare let this life changing opportunity pass me by; especially without taking the time to take my best shot toward achieving it.

Just a little background for those who do not know, The Gates Millennium Scholarship (GMS) is a 1.6-billion-dollar Initiative funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal of the GMS program is to promote academic excellence and provide an opportunity for outstanding minority students with financial need to reach their highest potential. Specifically, GMS strives to reduce the financial burden of attending college faced by African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander, and Hispanic American students with high academic and leadership promise. The GMS application required around 9 essays, a recommender, a nominator, and several other components.

To ensure that I submitted my best quality work for the scholarship, I enlisted several people to review the content of my application before I submitted it. These people included my parents, trusted peers, my English teacher, and my guidance counselor.

I highly recommend that students applying to college or for scholarships reach out to their “wise counsel” for advice or guidance in regards to applications. This can really make a big difference in the quality of work that is ultimately submitted.

After submitting my application for GMS, I continued to apply to scholarships on a local and national level. I will never forget the day that I received the “big envelope” detailing that I was awarded this prestigious scholarship. I was the first person in the history of my high school to receive this scholarship. It was a blessing to be a recipient. Moreover, it was a relief to know that money would not prevent me from attending my first-choice college.

Now, as a graduate of Duke University, I am extremely grateful for The Gates Millennium Scholarship’s assistance in funding my education. The Gates Millennium Scholarship substantially reduced the amount of money that I paid to attend undergrad. This scholarship has also provided several of my peers with financial assistance to attend graduate school programs in STEM related fields. I strongly recommend that all high school students apply to as many scholarships as they can for college, and to start applying as early as possible! Great luck!

– Ciera Echols, Gates Millennium Scholar, Former White House Intern


First and Last Name:  Ciera Echols .
Hometown: Atlanta, GA

What’s the best advice you ever received as a student or young professional?:

“Don’t be complacent about pursuing what God has deposited into your heart. Take risks, and trust the timing of your life.”

What’s the best advice you never received but wish you had?:

“It is important to make positive declarations over your life. Our words tend to produce what we say.”


How can people contact Ciera for more information (Website link, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Platforms):

Instagram: @Cierane

Facebook:@ https://www.facebook.com/ciera.echols

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