Like many schools, Rockbridge County High School in western Virginia hosts a special program each year to spotlight the scholarships won by college-bound students. As graduating senior Kacie Shifflett and her father were preparing to attend the 2018 event, he asked her, “How many do you think you’re going to get?” “Maybe two or three,” was Shifflett’s hope.
She never expected what happened that night. “It was crazy,” Shifflett, now a Hollins sophomore, recalls. “I’ll never forget it. They announced scholarship after scholarship and kept saying ‘Kacie Shifflett, Kacie Shifflett….’ My dad had tears in his eyes.”
All told, Shifflett learned that that she had won approximately 20 scholarships, ranging in value from $250 up to $5,000. Because of her hard work and perseverance, the first-generation student will graduate from Hollins debt-free with no loans to repay. She will continue to receive the vast majority of her scholarships all four years as long as she remains a student in good standing.
Shifflett credits her high school cross country coach and his wife, a Hollins alumna, with helping spark the momentum that led to her college career. “I didn’t think I would actually go to college until I joined the cross country team during my sophomore year. A lot of my teammates talked about going on to college after high school and I started thinking, ‘I could do that.’ I began taking Advanced Placement classes and dual enrollment courses and did pretty well. My coach really talked up Hollins, and it turned out a good friend of his wife’s worked to help kids get into college and find scholarships. She was a big factor, too,” especially in helping Shifflett identify and apply for an abundance of scholarships made possible by banks, restaurants, and other establishments in and around her hometown of Glasgow, a small community of about 1,100 residents. She also regularly checked a bulletin board near the entrance of her high school that featured information on local scholarships.
From November through April of her senior year, Shifflett estimates she applied for between 30 and 40 scholarships. “I was lucky in that I had a study hall that year and that became a class within itself. All I did was write essays.” She drew upon all aspects of her life, from her involvement in athletics and community service to her goal of hiking the Appalachian Trail and what she wanted to pursue in a career.
A local bank presented one of the most interesting scholarship application processes. “I had to leave school for the day and go to one of their branches to learn how a bank works. Then, I had to write an essay about how to invest and save money.”
How can current high school students duplicate Shifflett’s scholarship success? She offers these pointers:
- Let your coaches and teachers know your aspirations. “Once I told my coach I wanted to go to college, he dedicated a lot to me. Then, my sophomore English teacher helped me by proofreading my essays.”
- When it comes to scholarships, everything counts. “A lot of the scholarships I won were only $500 or $1000, but they do add up.”
- Focus on resources within your community, even if you live in a small town. “People know you and there is a lot less competition than with scholarships that are offered on a national level. With some of the scholarships I received, I was the only person who applied.”
- Don’t hesitate to share your story. “No matter where you come from, there’s always something special about you, where it’s a hardship you went through, something you did for your community, school, church, or family, participating in athletics or leading a club, or anything else you’re really passionate about.”
The encouragement Shifflett got from her cross country coach to attend Hollins turned out to be prescient, too. She is majoring in biology/pre-med (“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor”) and competing on the university’s cross country team.
“I fell in love with the campus and the atmosphere here. Everyone wants you to succeed.”