2016 ValuePenguin Scholarship Winner

In 2016, ValuePenguin.com held its very first scholarship essay contest. Contestants were tasked with answering two questions – one relating to personal finance, and the other asking about each contestant’s choice of major. We received an overwhelming response from students all across the country. Ultimately, only one of the close to 400 submissions could take home the grand prize – a $2,000 scholarship.

The winner this year is Jeffrey Wang from the University of Utah! Jeffrey is studying Chemistry and Management, and hopes to one day go to law school and run for public office. Our judges were impressed with his creativeness and the overall quality of his writing. The money-saving tips he shared were unique, and offered great advice other students could use to ease how costly college can get. You can check out Jeffrey’s submission below.

If you’re interested in entering this year’s scholarship contest, follow this link.

Explain a situation in which you spent too much (or not enough) money on a student expense and explain a creative solution you would share with future students.

College is a vast ocean of responsibilities and financial burden. Surfing through it is often scary as a college student, especially right out of high school. A lot of these waves of information are new and most college students have never been on their own before this time in their lives. Personally, there have been multiple experiences where I have misjudged the wave in front of me, causing me to wipe out. However, there are many creative solutions available as a college student to get back on your board and make it back to shore.

The first trick I’ve learned and utilized throughout college relates to textbooks. Many students pay a lot of money for textbooks that they may not even use. That is why it is important to rent or borrow these textbooks from friends or websites like Amazon. By doing so, you pay a much lower cost and you reduce the risk of buying a book you may not actually use in class. Another way to save on textbooks is to find out if the library or tutoring center on campus has the book. If they do, you can simply borrow it when you need it which saves you tons of money.

Another trick I have used to save money in college has come in handy with travelling. Most college students want to experience the world and travel as much as possible. However, travelling is very expensive so many students either don’t travel or pay too much to travel. I have solved this by seeking out internships and programs that allow me to travel for little to no cost. By participating in these programs, I am able to travel, gain experience, and save money. For example, my current internship has taken me to Los Angeles, Portland, Atlanta, and Zion’s National Park for different work related activities for no cost. This is a great way to travel and save money. Another way to travel for cheap is to find service abroad programs outside of the university. Most university study abroad or travel programs are very high cost. However, outside programs with organizations such as ILP or HelpIntl have very low costs that allow you to do service, travel for long periods of time, and gain experience in another culture. Honestly, there is no downfall to utilizing these tips since you get to travel at little to no cost. I have loved figuring this part of college out because traveling is a huge passion of mine.

Lastly, my last tip revolves around food. Most college students either buy a meal plan or buy food on campus every day. Doing so is super expensive and often times you get tired of the food. As a result, I have decided to pack my lunch as often as possible. Packing your own lunch seriously saves you so much money in the long run as it all accumulates bit by bit. Another option you have is participating in activities around campus. There is tons of free food available all of the time on campus. You just need to keep your eyes open and be willing to participate in different activities! Don’t waste your money on buying overpriced food and you will save some big bucks!

All three of these tips have helped me save a lot of money throughout college. Without finding and utilizing these tricks, I would not have been able to save money through my college experience. Finding as many ways to save money in college is extremely important and I hope the tips I’ve listed above are useful to other college students. Navigating the ocean of financial burdens in college is difficult, but anyone can do it with the right tools and gear.

How did you choose your college and/or major?

Deciding my major was an extremely long process since there were so many options available. There were very few majors I was opposed to and very few majors I extremely liked. As a result, I had to figure out ways to narrow down my list. I ended figuring out my major using three tools: informational interviews, exploratory programs, and shadowing.

First, informational interviews are an extremely useful tool when deciding on a major. Talking to advisors, students, and friends about their major gives some great insights about what the major is about and where the major can take you in the future. Knowing what the future may look like after a major is extremely important since college is meant to get you into a career you love. Being able to spend time learning this information from primary sources is a great way to start narrowing down your options. Plus, it is extremely simple. Just set up an appointment with your person of choice and talk to them for half an hour or more. Be prepared with some questions and stay engaged. The more you learn before entering the major, the better.

With so many people switching majors 2-3 times in college, it is vital that students explore before deciding on a single or double major. Knowing this, I got involved with different exploratory programs such as LEAP and Business Scholars. In each of these programs, professors talk to students about the different fields and majors in their area. For LEAP, it was science majors. For Business Scholars, it involved all of the business majors. Going through these programs gave me greater insight in what kind of work I’d be doing through my majors. I got to visit companies, talk to people working in those areas, and ask questions about the different classes in each major. Knowing this information allowed me to enter my majors with confidence.

Lastly, shadowing is one of the best ways to actually see what you might be interested in. Shadowing students, people in various careers, and professors is a hands-on way to learn about a major or field of study and I highly recommend it. It opens your eyes and allows you to see the reality of the major you are interested in. The other two tips I’ve provided are more theoretical while this tip allows you to see and react first hand to a field of study. This tip is something you should work up to and utilize as your last card. If you do some exploratory activities and interviews before hand, this tip will be much more useful and may even lead you to your decision.

Now, as a business management and chemistry double major, I look back to my time as a freshman and I am very grateful for the exploratory programs I was a part of. They showed me that there is so much left to discover in each major and how to learn vital information about each major before setting anything in stone. Having these opportunities really solidified my choices and I am confident that I will stick with these two majors until I graduate. Knowing this has greatly affected my education because I am more invested in my majors now that I know they are the right ones for me. I highly recommend every student should explore as much as they can and do the work necessary to choose a major with confidence.

Comments and Questions