We all dream of our big break - that moment when you get accepted into your top college choice, you get offered that elite internship in NYC or you land a spot on the documentary crew heading to New Zealand. You've worked hard and pulled more than a few all-nighters to get closer to your dream. But what happens when opportunity knocks and you can't afford to answer the door?
Lack of funding for valuable out-of-classroom experiences is an all-too-real problem for many students across the country, including those in prestigious schools. My company recently conducted a survey that found that over 95 percent of young women lack easy access to funding for such opportunities. For instance, take Sarah Crudden, a 20-year-old at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo., who dreams of breaking into the medical profession but faces the daunting task of paying her own way through school. Instead of pursuing leadership opportunities and internships that could boost her med school applications, Sarah must work extra hours on top of school in order to pay for rent and tuition. Whereas college is meant to provide a level playing field from which to launch toward your dreams, the reality is that students like Sarah often start a step behind their peers who can afford to "pay to play" when it comes to out-of-classroom experiences.
Of course, one could argue that these extracurriculars are just for fun and are ultimately not necessary to one's future success. Sure, it is possible to get through college without them. The problem is we're not talking about not being able to afford the latest iPhone or other luxuries; we're talking about having to turn down life experiences, like trips abroad and internships, that were earned through talent and dedication. These experiences build on each other, helping cultivate intangible skills that shape futures and set you up to reach your dreams. The thought that a lack of funding could be the final barrier that stands between a big dream and one's ability to reach it is deeply concerning to me.
My best tip for students facing the challenge of having to fund such out-of-classroom activities? Always go after the opportunity first, and then tackle funding next. As daunting a task as raising funds for these experiences may seem, don't let it stop you from pursuing your most audacious goals. In fact, once you've landed the experience of a lifetime, there are ways to raise the money you need.
Do your research.
The funding may be waiting out there for you, but it's going to take some digging to find it. There are scholarships, grants and organizations specifically designed to help you obtain and fund valuable out-of-classroom experiences. For example, at UChic, we've created a 1,000 Dreams Scholarship Fund which provides micro-grants of up to $1,000 to help girls like Sarah access exactly those experiences that shape goals, careers and lives. You won't know what funding options are available to you until you look.
Tap into your network.
You're never alone when it comes to fighting for your dreams. Whether it's your family, friends or mentors, there's always someone out there who wants to see you succeed. Even if they can't directly provide you with the funding you need, they may be able to connect you with someone who can. When you do find support, make sure to follow up with updates, photos and recaps on your progress. They've invested time (and money!) in your future and deserve to see the results of your hard work.
Don't get discouraged if you can't find the money you need in the form of scholarships. From crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and Indiegogo to shopping sites like Etsy or even a simple post on Facebook, there are plenty of options available for anyone willing to get a little creative with fundraising. The most important thing is to be upfront about your need. State clearly what your goal is and how it will help your future and your career. And don't forget to follow up with your "backers" six to nine months after you've been successfully funded to show them what you have done.
Unfortunately, students who suffer from a lack of funding will face challenges their more deep-pocketed peers may never have to consider. But with persistence, a little creativity and valuable support from your personal ties and beyond, you, too, can achieve more than you ever imagined.