Brie Belz estimates she applied to about 50 scholarships when she was preparing to go to college — and her hard work paid off. The junior biochemistry major at Washington and Lee University received enough scholarship funding to not only pay for her college education but also to allow her to study abroad in Nepal and Scotland and to visit four other foreign countries while abroad.
"I don’t know if I would’ve found these scholarships on my own.”
— Brie Belz
“It feels amazing to have these opportunities and know I’ll graduate debt-free,” Belz said. “I think the big thing is the awareness, that there is this resource at your disposal. I don’t know if I would’ve found these scholarships on my own.”
Belz used a couple of websites while looking for scholarships, but her main source was TFS Scholarships, which provides free access, thanks to Wells Fargo’s exclusive sponsorship, to more than 7 million scholarships totaling more than $41 billion.
‘We can offer this to everybody’
TFS Scholarships — originally Tuition Funding Sources — was founded in 1987 by Richard Sorensen, whose father had been the principal at an inner-city high school and saw the challenges students faced in funding their education. It was also around the time when computers were becoming mainstream, primarily in schools and businesses, Sorensen said. After expressing a desire to get involved in the technology business, Sorensen’s father told him many parents thought counselors were helping students find scholarships, but they didn’t always have time to do that. Sorensen’s father said if he could come up with a scholarship database, every school in the country would want it.
The program took a year to create, but when Sorensen tried to sell it to schools, they didn’t have the money to buy it. Then, a sponsor came along. For about 25 years, a soda company sponsored the program and gave it to high schools with vending machine contracts, reaching students at a few thousand high schools. Students exclusively at those schools had complimentary, advertisement-free access to the scholarship database via the school network.
“We’ve always been proud of the fact that we’re not a click-and-bait organization,” Sorensen said. “Most sites dangle a scholarship in front of a student and bombard them with ads and sell their names. We always felt that was an intrusion.”
About seven years ago, the sponsor left many of the schools, and TFS Scholarships was in need of a new sponsor. Wells Fargo stepped in and allowed TFS Scholarships to provide free and open access to everyone. “We especially like the fact that we’re with Wells Fargo so we can offer this to everybody,” Sorensen said. “We previously would have schools call and beg for it.”
‘Trying to find as many scholarships as possible’
Belz found out about TFS Scholarships during her junior year of high school through her mother, who works for Wells Fargo and knew about the site. “I was in the process of applying for schools and seeing how expensive it was,” Belz said. “I went on a frenzy of trying to find as many scholarships as possible.”
Belz said one scholarship website was similar to social media, where students post an image and caption, and the number of votes they receive enters them into a pool of potential scholarship recipients, instead of it being based on merit. “It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for in a scholarship,” Belz said. “TFS asked thought-provoking questions and wanted to know the applicant more.”
She ultimately received a full ride through her university; a keynote scholarship from the National Space Club and Foundation; a scholarship through Wells Fargo as the child of a team member; and a scholarship from the Better Business Bureau. In addition to majoring in biochemistry, Belz is minoring in poverty and human capability studies and is on the pre-medical track to become a doctor. She was inspired to help people after seeing how a double lung transplant improved the quality of life for her late cousin, who was born cystic fibrosis.
Not only have the scholarships helped her pay for college, study abroad, and set the path toward medical school, they have also improved Belz’s confidence as she spoke at a National Space Club and Foundation dinner for 2,000 people and interviewed for her university’s scholarship, she said. “Going into the interview for the school scholarship, I had a huge amount of confidence because I knew I was capable of doing these things and portraying myself the best I could be,” Belz said. “That would be a huge determinant in getting the full ride to my school.”
Advice for students
As students begin searching for scholarships, Sorensen advises putting themselves out there and looking for any applicable scholarships, even if they are small, adding, “There are plenty of scholarships. The ones who don’t get scholarships apply for one or two big national awards, don’t get it, and say, ‘Well I tried.’”
Belz agreed. “It’s very easy to say, ‘I don’t want to write a bunch of essays’ and put it off,” she said. “I recommend setting time aside to do it, like two hours a day or a Saturday, which I did. It’s important to have something you’re passionate about and convey it because that’s the most important thing. They want to be inspired and hear why that money is crucial to you.”