CLEP? Gap year? Alternative college?

What about scholarships??? 

If I had a dime for every time someone asked me this…

The Basics:

  • Yes, most scholarship applications are meant for high school juniors or seniors, or else college students who can prove they are enrolled in classes full-time.
  • Yes, this disqualifies most alternative college students from being eligible for scholarships.


  • If you begin earning college credits during high school like I did, you can still fill out scholarship applications like a senior in high school, and apply like you’re going into your freshman year normally. If your desired degree is something that can’t be completed 100% alternatively (engineering, premed, etc.), this is an excellent option!
  • If you are over 24 years old, married, or a parent, you are recognized as independent on the FASFA financial aid forms and if you’re low income, you could be eligible for scholarships through this.
  • If you are enrolled in even one class through a community college or a univeristy’s online program, there are some scholarships available, you just have to dig for applications that don’t require part- or full-time student status. They’re more rare, but you can sign up for emails from sites like Fastweb Scholarships, and sift through the options. I have applied for a few. Keep in mind they will only apply to college expenses, so you should plan to use them towards whatever classes you have to take online (not CLEP expenses,, etc.).

*Tip: never take a class online or at a college just because you have a scholarship. Maybe if you can get it and the books free, then it’s okay. But if you’re just taking the class to use up scholarship money, but it’s still costing $400, $800, or maybe more, while there’s a perfectly good CLEP you could take for the same credits in a fraction of the time for under $100, it’s not the smartest call. Try to think smart.

Story time.

I was a sweet, simple seventeen-year-old, a homeschooled senior in high school. I really, really was hoping and planning on being admitted into the College of the Ozarks in Missouri. I planned on this to such an extent that I took the ACT for the first time, just for the application. I hoped for this so much that my mom drove me twenty-two hours round trip in two days just so I could go to the interview in person.

I love that school. Present tense love, because it’s still my favorite. Their work education program allows students to work about 15-20 hours a week on campus to pay off the price of their own tuition! For room and board, as well as book expenses, you can work on campus through the summer or find work off-campus during the school year. Most students graduate debt-free, and it’s such a cool community. Ah, sweet dreams of days gone by.

So, just for the record, my ACT was good, well above average. My GPA was pretty good, as well. I did everything I could do, honestly. But with full enrollment capped at 1,500 students, I was working against the rough grain of admissions. While they sought students who were locals and could demonstrate significant financial need through their parents’ tax forms, I lived 550+ miles away and my parents’ tax forms demonstrated a comfortable financial situation, though I tried to convince them multiple times that I didn’t have college funding from them. On top of that, my interview went terribly. I was added to the school’s ever-long student wait list, and never admitted.


Scholarships weren’t my focus.

I obviously knew what scholarships were and everything, but I had already started taking CLEP exams during my senior year (read my origin story here), and I just didn’t dedicate time to lots of scholarship applications. I guess I didn’t see it as a priority.

I only applied for a handful of scholarships. I won several; I was nominated for a few. I had one scholarship from a youth bowling league I was in 8th-10th grades. My total scholarships graduating high school were somewhere between $12,000-15,000.

Not too shabby.

But when I didn’t go to school the semester following graduation, most of them expired.

*sad face*

The biggest scholarship check was made out to the College of the Ozarks because I applied for it before I was wait-listed. The smaller ones had to be applied to a school within a year. I moved to Oklahoma at the end of September that year after graduation, and thought about enrolling in community college the next spring, but didn’t.

That season had some dark clouds looming over it.

Ever have a dream, but not be able to reach it? Or not know how to reach it? Or have to settle it within yourself that you’ll never reach it?

It’s hard. As a dreamer-type, dying to dreams and dying to self is a hurtful process. Not that it isn’t healthy and good, but it’s hard.

So with my dreams, my scholarships died.

Honestly, that $12,000-15,000 was way, way more than I had in my personal checking account, and I wasn’t sure if college was going to happen for me at all. Ever.

Instead of scratching and clawing and trying to keep getting college credits, I gave that up for a while. “A while”, as in, two years.

When I came back to the point where I was ready to pick myself back up and finish what I started [the degree], money was still a prime concern. You know, as a broke person. It took a lot of planning. Days, weeks, and months of research and planning and risk taking. But I did it. I finished my degree for about $8,000. Total.

Would the scholarships have helped? Absolutely.

But if I can just shoot straight with you guys, even at College of the Ozarks, my dream school I never got to go to, where tuition is covered by work study jobs, four years of room and board, as well as books, would have cost me at least $25,000. Say I had $12,000 in scholarships, I still would have had to have gotten an off-campus job at least part time. I wouldn’t have had extra time for international travel, starting up a photography business, or two years of teaching experience before graduation.

I still think it would have been a great four years. I kind of miss that, because I know I would have liked it if it would have worked out. But money-wise, and scholarship-wise, my degree was still quite a bit cheaper than the best I could have done with scholarships at a university. 

Personal Thoughts:

If you are in a situation where it is cheaper and easier to go to the brick-and-mortar college than to try alternative methods like I did, I’m not going to talk you out of it.

If you are offered a full-ride scholarship and find it plenty convenient to use the scholarship and get your degree for free, why not?

For some people, they turn 18 and their parents want them gone. Other people live in a rough family situation and might find a healthier life away from home. Whatever situation you’re in personally, if you look at your life and think that it would be significantly cheaper or easier to earn your degree at a school rather than online, I can definitely honor that judgement call.

Additionally, some degrees can’t be completed 100% online. Almost all degrees can be completed at least half-online/through alternative methods, still saving the expenses of two years of school, but that’s for another post.

I’m not saying this stuff is for everyone. I’m not forcing my kool-aid down your throat.

But I am saying: I had a pretty good situation going for college expenses and scholarships myself, and I still got it done even cheaper, easier, and faster.

I don’t think scholarships are the answer. I don’t think scholarships are a good reason to decide to go to college or not.

And if you do this degree thing like I did, it’s kind of like a built-in scholarship, you know? Just instead of them giving you $40,000, you’re saving it for yourself. Penny saved is a penny earned, sort of thing.

What about you? What do you think of scholarships? Worth going to college just to get use out of?

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