By Holly Henry
Planning for college: for students, it’s hard enough trying to choose a school that suits their career goals — but what about actually paying for it?
Now that’s a little daunting.
Lorraine SantaLucia thought the same thing, back in 2010 graduating from Landstown High School. Now, she has graduated debt free and is the president of Scholarship Sharing — a free nonprofit group dedicated to helping students find resources for paying for college.
“We are a student run organization working to decrease loan debt,” says SantaLucia.
The group is hosting an upcoming Scholarship Fair in Richmond. Last year, the event brought in more than 1,000 students. This year, they expect 5,000. The organization – which originated in a tiny Facebook group – has humble beginnings, despite the now thousands of people they are currently working with. It all started when SantaLucia began researching how she could attend Hollins University, a private women’s college. She started researching ways to pay her tuition — scholarships, grants, military funding, and work-study programs that were often overlooked by the public. She found them — enough of them to pay a nearly $40,000 tuition bill. Her sophomore year she transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University and also paid for her full tuition bill in outside aid!
Her savvy researching skills soon became noticed; parents in the community were contacting her, asking her to help their child do the same thing. She started a Facebook group to communicate with students — which she accidentally left open to the public! After the group gained more than 300 followers in under a week, SantaLucia decided to start her own nonprofit organization that thrives today: Scholarship Sharing.
SantaLucia’s passion is helping students, particularly young adults, realize that you don’t need perfect grades or lots of money to go to the school of your dreams.
“This is personal for me, because loan debt isn’t only a problem for those who I was working with, it is also something that could have also affected me as a student. I work to inform students about opportunities to avoid debt, because of how hard it was for me to find aid when I first got started.”
Lorraine graduated debt free in May 2014 from VCU after winning more than $33,000 in scholarships and $20,000 in grants with her Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communications and minors in Spanish and Business.
Right now, SantaLucia is currently a graduate student at VCU finishing her Certification in Nonprofit Management on a $4,600 SunTrust Scholarship. In the spring she will be pursuing her Master’s in Public Administration.
“I’ll be graduating from my Master’s program debt free as well, thanks to the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependent Education Program. I owe so much to the military. Being a Navy dependent has given me perspective on putting others before yourself,” she says.
Lorraine has been charitable in more ways than one, and encourages students to do the same — because scholarships can be an added benefit to giving back. The Hispanic College Fund is one of the scholarships she utilized. She received the $5,000 scholarship for two consecutive years. As a member of Operation Smile, UNICEF, the PRSSA, and hosting community service projects with Scholarship Sharing, SantaLucia was able to obtain the scholarship by showing how she was giving back to the community.
“I continue to give back to the community because it keeps me grounded. My friends and family make fun that I’m always trying to save the world,” says SantaLucia.
SantaLucia and her team are now gearing up for the Scholarship Fair in Richmond on October 11 through October 12. The event will be open to the public. Scholarship opportunities from more than 50 foundations will be present, and students can use the funds available to attend the university or community college of their choice.
“We will be hosting our Second Annual Scholarship Fair this year to connect students to college funding opportunities. We want to create awareness about outside aid to students, to increase networking and interviewing skills, and start the conversation about college financial planning,” she explains.
SantaLucia says it’s important to know that it’s never too early to start planning, and never too late to go to college.
“People assume the only time you can earn scholarships is when you’re in high school. This is not the case. Scholarships are available, in fact, when you are as young as six years old, or a senior citizen. We’ll have info on those types of programs at the event.”
Her advice? Be thorough and think things through.
“Students should be looking at their financial aid packages and questioning everything. Can you keep the aid listed only if you keep a certain GPA? Will the scholarships awarded be available for all four years? Is it automatically renewed? Or do you have to reapply each year? Do you need to prove you are still in your major field at the school? Or show logged community service hours? Financial aid can be tricky to maneuver if you don’t ask the right questions!”
Those who attend the upcoming Scholarship Fair will not only learn valuable advice such as this, straight from the experts, but they will have the shot at earning one of several $500 scholarships to use at the school of their choice.
“Scholarships will be awarded at random throughout the event for those with tickets. So Mom and Dad, you should get tickets, too! Oh, and winners of the scholarships don’t need to be present to claim an award. We’ll email all recipients.”
The event is open to high school, college, and community college students, as well as parents and teachers.
“This event has something for everyone. Even after graduation there’s still loans you need to deal with. There will be organizations on site that can also help with debt management and programs for loan forgiveness.”
Each person who attends the fair will be asked to make a monetary donation by Paypal or credit card. Scholarship Sharing then puts 100 percent of those proceeds towards the $500 scholarships they are distributing. So the more donations they receive, the more scholarship money they can give away. Tickets will be available at the door, but those who want to avoid the lines can pre-register on their website now, HERE.
Location: Virginia Commonwealth University Student Commons
907 Floyd Ave., Richmond, VA
Directions to the venue can be found here: http://www.maps.vcu.edu/monroepark/univcommons/
Oct 11, 6-9 p.m.
Oct 12, 3-6 p.m.
Get involved with Scholarship Sharing:
Scholarship Sharing Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/scholarshipsharing
Scholarship Sharing on Twitter: @ScholarshipCrew
Join the free email list-serve and get more information on the groups’ events on their website: http://www.scholarshipsharing.org/