To learn a little bit more about the college application process, how scholarships work, etc., I decided to interview my friend Hannah Balint. She had always been someone to look up to for me, and I hope y’all learn something from her insights as well! Also, check out her blog.
Here is her story:
Hannah was born in Georgia, then lived in Pittsburgh, PA, and then moved to Nashville, TN 7 years ago. In high school, her main extracurricular activity was theatre. To get extra money, she babysat. She was very involved with school and enjoyed attending events such as football games with her friends.
In terms of academics, she took a lot of AP and Honors classes, which gave her a pretty heavy homework load but she says “gave me good study habits and time management.”
This year, Hannah is attending Saint Louis University (SLU), a private institution of 12,949 students in the heart of St. Louis, Missouri. As well as applying to SLU, Hannah originally applied to four other schools as well: Union (Jackson, TN), Butler (Indianapolis, IN), Xavier (Cincinnati, Ohio), and Wheaton (Wheaton, IL).
In the end, Hannah decided to go to SLU because she fell in love the very first time she visited! When she toured campus, her first thought was “Oh my gosh, this is my place, I love it.” SLU also gave her the best scholarships out of the schools she applied to.
In terms of what she should major in, Hannah was undecided for a while in high school but ended up settling on double majoring in English and Theatre. Through taking AP English classes, she realized that she had “a passion for writing.” As for theatre, she had always had an interest in it but wasn’t sure she wanted to actually pursue it as a career. It was when she started putting a lot of effort into saving up money to attend a theatre camp that she realized “wow, this really means a lot to me.”
Starting the Journey
Though it took a little longer to decide exactly which college, Hannah had always known she wanted to go. In fact, she has looked forward to it for years, describing herself as having “really bad ‘senioritis’ since freshman year.” Since she knew she wanted to go on to higher education and earn academic scholarships, Hannah made sure to take many Advanced Placement and honors classes in high school. However, she prioritized trying “to take classes that were challenging but weren’t going to be completely overwhelming.” Hannah also found going to after school tutoring for her classes helpful as well.
Hannah also knew that ACT scores are important for earning scholarships, so she studied a lot before taking the test. To help prepare, she studied using an ACT study book and going to ACT tutoring at school. Though her preparation was useful, Hannah points out that “half of what the ACT is, just being a good test-taker and doing it a lot.” In the end, she ended up scoring a whopping 33 on the test.
Besides merit, another big piece of college applications and scholarship applications are essays. Hannah says “my biggest issue is word limit”. Who else can relate? I definitely can. A lot of times, the essay prompts can be very open as well.
What helped Hannah was picking one concise event that she could describe in detail. For example, her application/scholarship essay for SLU (it could be any topic) was about the first time she tried raw oysters at the beach! “I sent it in and I was really nervous. I was like, what if they think it’s totally weird,” Hannah describes, “but then I had an interview with one of the admissions counselors and she was like, “I loved your essay,” so I was glad I just did something unique!”
Check out her scholarship-winning essay here.
Outside of SLU, Hannah received two scholarships. She earned $500 for writing about an inspiring teacher through Classroom Chronicles. She also won $500 through a PTO random drawing scholarship. Additionally, she applied for a couple other short essay scholarships through Chegg, but she didn’t end up getting those.
The most substantial scholarships Hannah earned came through SLU. Since her dad is a professor at Belmont University in Nashville, Hannah was able to receive a extremely competitive tuition exchange scholarship. How it works is if she were going to Belmont, she would get free tuition automatically since her dad teaches there. That free tuition can transfer to select schools such as SLU, but it is only given to a very small number of applicants.
In addition to tuition exchange, Hannah also was honored with SLU’s Vice Presidential scholarship, which is awarded based on your application package (merit, extracurriculars, essay, etc.). She was invited to interview for the very selective Presidential scholarship, but didn’t end up winning it.
For the Presidential scholarship application process, Hannah had to go to SLU campus for one weekend. “We had several receptions which were basically dinner party type things that everyone dressed up really nice for,” Hannah says. “So at them you were just supposed to go around and network. They had a bunch of alumni, some current professors, a bunch of just high-up people in the school.” That night, she stayed overnight with a student in their dorm along with 6 other girls.
The next day they had interviews. Hannah went to two interviews, which each were about 25 minutes long, and everyone had to dress professionally. The interviewers asked Hannah a variety of questions,“about my major, about my current interests, about why I like SLU, and about my philosophies about life as a person. They just wanted to see who I was.” And the great thing was, even though she didn’t win the Presidential scholarship, since Hannah had come to the interview and had spent a whole weekend there competing, SLU added additional money to her Vice Presidential scholarship.
Hannah feels like applying for these scholarships taught her a lot, like realizing “how much I like to write, because a lot of people talk about hating writing admissions essays, but I really liked it.” It also taught her not be too hard on yourself. In her words, “when you see just how many people are at these things and how many people are competing, don’t feel like you’re a failure if you don’t get something.”
Going along with this, Hannah believes that it’s super important to apply for as many scholarships as possible. Her words of wisdom are: “Being in debt is such a huge issue. You might as well do anything you can to avoid it! My aunt is 36 and she’s still paying off tons of debt every year. Just don’t do that! If you can get any scholarships at all, do it. It’s not going to take as much time to apply for an additional thing as it is going to take to pay off $100,000 of debt.” This is so true and very important to remember.
Scholarships aren’t the only steps Hannah and her parents are taking to make sure she gets off on the right foot financially. Her parents are actually taking out a loan through FAFSA and paying it back while she’s in college. “They put it under my name so I have a good credit score coming out,” Hannah explains, “because if you’ve never paid back a loan you won’t have any credit score. And that’ll help me buy a house or a car later on.” This is a great idea that’s worth talking with your family members about or considering doing it yourself.
Now that she’s made it through the application process, Hannah is super excited to be attending SLU. One of the things she’s looking forward to the most is just “becoming my own independent person”. Hannah puts it well in that “while you’re in high school a lot of your daily life and where you live, what you do, and who you spend time with is dictated by your family situation.” She’s also excited to live in a big city too.
That being said, Hannah didn’t always know she’d be excited about going to college in a big city. That’s why her biggest college application tip is making sure you visit the campuses. “If you look at colleges online you really can’t get a good sense. I think actually being on campus and meeting students gives you the best idea”. For example, there was one school she looked at online with a pretty campus and has a great reputation academically, but when she stepped on campus she really disliked it. This often happens, and visiting campuses is super important to not only see what the landscape is like but also to get a feel of the atmosphere and people there.
Overall, I found Hannah’s experiences while applying for college very interesting and applicable to my personal college search. If you have any additional questions for Hannah or have a specific interest in Saint Louis University, let me know in the comments and I will ask her and get back with you!