ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- At a time when crippling student loan debt and cheating admissions scandals are making headlines, many students are getting into college and paying for it the old fashioned way: through hard work.
Kayla Scott is a senior at Monticello High School with big ambitions. "I have two passions, theater and medicine, so my theater director says I'm going to be a dancing surgeon," said Scott.
She plans to study at North Carolina State A&T University in Greensboro, North Carolina. But chasing her big ambitions comes with a big price tag.
"College is a dream and I want to pursue something I care about so much," said Scott. "If I can't pay for it, I can't go, so I have to apply to scholarships."
And apply she does. On top of working three jobs and maintaining a 4.375 GPA through a demanding course load, Scott spends as much time applying for scholarships as she does studying.
"The amount of effort I put in for my math class, my biology class, I'm doing for these scholarships," said Scott. "Always updating my resume, my essays, always checking in with my counselors each day or each week."
According to school councilor Adam Southall, that kind of effort is necessary.
"College is expensive. It is very pricey. It's an investment," said Southall. "So make sure you're matching that financial investment with the investment of your time."
He has some tips for students and families looking for education funding. First, make sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which needs to be completed during senior year.
"Most scholarships, most financial aid comes through the FAFSA," said Southall. "Colleges use that as a springboard to determine who needs, wants, and gets money."
Seekers should never pay for a scholarship search site. There are plenty of free ones out there including scholarship online portals offered at many high schools.
Southall also recommends students need to know their passions.
"Your civic involvement, your religious affiliation, your community service, your interest in a certain subject, can lead to money for college," said Southall.
Next, students can share their story with those that can help connect them to scholarships.
"There are opportunities that come across our desk all the time that we just don't know who fits the criteria," said Southall. "If we know your story, we can piece together and get those opportunities in front of students."
Putting in the time to write a good essay now, could make applying for scholarships easier in the future.
"You can use an essay for one scholarship then turn it over and change a few words, change the focus but you can use the same essay from one scholarship to the next," said Southall.
Southall and Scott also advise scholarship seekers to use that essay to apply for scholarships big and small. It all adds up.
For Scott, the effort has paid off, earning her more than $30,000 in scholarships and counting. Coming from a single-parent home and having faced her share of struggles, she knows this money matters.
"I'm determined to make a better life for my family," said Scott. "I see the struggle my mom's gone through and me trying to juggle school, work, and other activities. But I know if I work hard now it's going to pay off in the future."