The average undergraduate graduates with about $30,000 in student debt. This is a massive number that fresh graduates will have to pay off, especially with higher interest rates leading to more debt month after month. For low-income students, college expenses and the potential for these huge debts can be a hindrance to a college education. But Rhea Watson is working hard to help more students attend college for free and graduate debt-free.
Also known as the Scholarship Doctor, Watson set up a business training people “zero to ninety-nine” to earn scholarships to Ivy League schools, public and private colleges, and parochial schools. Along with her team at Scholarship Solutions, Watson has helped students earn more than $95 million in scholarships over the past eight years. Her average student wins $250,000 in scholarships.
“My company exists because there’s a pandemic at the scholarship and university stage. I’m a scholarship doctor. I handle student loan debt and the stress that comes with the college scholarship process. I’m in the business of educating and re-educating people and not educating them to let them know there’s a different way,” Watson explained.
The advice Watson shares with her scientists comes from a lot of her own experiences. She was a first-generation college graduate who attended Morris Brown College on one of the biggest financial packages in the school’s history. Watson’s parents started preparing her for college from early childhood.
“[My parents] They were very accomplished even though they weren’t formally educated in college, but they wanted something different for me and my sister, so they created those environments. They didn’t have all the tools, but they always assured we did,” Watson shared.
Watson’s parents enrolled her in a federal program for first-generation, low-income students called Upward Bound when she was in sixth grade. The program helped prepare Watson for entering college. By the time she was ready to enter school, she had secured five full-ride scholarships and the Brown financial package.
Two weeks after graduating, she started her first job, Ebony Branches. The company was inspired by her parents who ran a nonprofit organization that funded science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs for young adults, but they didn’t earn a living wage from their work. Using lessons about finance she learned from her mentor, Dr. Jenny Marshall, Watson taught nonprofit founders how to get grants.
Soon, Watson began using her scholarship expertise to help other students, and Ebony Bisions became the seed of scholarship solutions. She had her first success story when she won a $25,000 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial scholarship and used it to provide scholarships for two young women to attend her alma mater.
“Being a first generation opened my eyes to the possibilities. It let me know that there was a roadmap I could create, a recipe I could offer to help others gain the opportunity to go to college without any debts and not be exposed to the stresses and strains that some people have to deal with,” Watson said. .
Part of Watson’s work helps students avoid the pitfalls they encountered on their scholarship journey. One of these lessons is the importance of reading lowercase letters. When Watson graduated, despite the size of her financial package, she discovered that she was still in debt because her financing package included loans. She’s always careful to warn parents and scientists that not all finance works the same way, and it’s important to know the differences and ask questions.
“I educate people about what funding means – the limitations and expectations. We have become a voice to advocate for students and their families and let them know that it is okay to ask questions and stand up for themselves when they see something they are not comfortable with.”
Watson provides its clients with many tools and other resources to support their journey to debt-free education. In addition to advocacy, she also teaches her clients three other languages. help It is about providing students with the help they need to achieve the kinds of grades and outcomes that scholarships get. One of her recommendations is to teach all students, even if their grades are already good.
“We’ve been conditioned to believe that if someone has a teacher, they must have a problem. There must be a challenge somewhere. They shouldn’t get it. They don’t think about it like my scholars do tutoring to maintain AS,” he explained. Watson argued that teaching should be a preventive versus an intervention.
The other is Analysis and Accountability, which Watson Scholars obtain through the individual services that Scholarship Solutions provides. This includes training and analysis for essay writing, internships, and additional curricula that are central to college applications and scholarships. Accountability comes from the constant follow up that scholarship solutions provide, especially through the pandemic.
“We regularly have phone calls, text messages, and screen meetings to let scholars know that even the world has kind of stopped, scholarships and the college process haven’t. And when [scholars] Follow the path, we have checks and are working in concert to make sure they maintain debt freedom,” Watson said.
Watson notes that parents have an important role in guiding their children toward debt-free college. Her biggest advice is simple: start as early as possible. Scholarship Solutions’ youngest client is only six months old, and Watson has trained middle school students to earn scholarships and take college classes. Encourage parents to make college preparation a priority.
“At the same time [your children] Learning basketball, golf, ballet or tap, they can also know they have an academic space and place. Watson advised giving them that support they needed to be successful.
Watson is keen to help many people access a debt-free education. In addition to the free information she provides on social media and her podcasts, she also publishes her first book, The Scholarship Doctor in: 5 Easy Steps to a Free Degree. Watson is pleased to have the book as a resource for students and parents who may not be able to invest in the individual services of the Scholarship Solution and for the higher education professionals and college preparation services who work with students every day.
“They will be helped by the tools, structures, and systems that we have built over the years that have been exclusive to our clients. I truly believe that everyone can go to college for free. Annually, in the United States, there are $50 billion in scholarships, but $3 billion is claimed. Just… I’m working to make sure that number increases, Watson said.