Unless you live under a rock, you (and your bank account) have probably clocked that student loan repayments just resumed last month, after a blissful three-year pandemic pause. Back in March 2020 when I was busy sanitizing everything in sight and making whipped coffees, the student loan freeze let me breathe a little easier. If you, like me, were living in *delulu land*, perhaps you thought it was going to last forever. Now, it's time to wake up and say goodbye to those $8 lattes.
As part of the deal struck between President Biden and congressional Republicans to raise the debt ceiling earlier this year, payments are once again coming due. Separately, SCOTUS also struck down Biden's ambitious student loan forgiveness plan this summer, which would have wiped out debt for millions of student borrowers.
With the student debt and college affordability picture not looking...awesome, it's clear the next generation of students will have to find creative ways to fund their education. Enter Scholarships360, a free platform that connects students with hundreds of scholarship opportunities and expert financial advice. With over 3 million users, Scholarships360 helps facilitate more than $221 million in scholarships. They also ensure all of the listed scholarships are current, as well as compile key resources for tackling tuition and student debt. If you are applying to college, already in college, or looking to go back to school, Scholarships360 can help you create a personalized financial plan for funding your education.
Will Geiger, CEO, and his brother, Brian Geiger, COO, are first-generation college graduates who started the company back in 2010 as a side hustle, but nurtured their "little project" into a full blown business.
"Originally it was not really well thought out as a business," says Will, who did a stint as a college admissions counselor before starting the company. "It was just like ‘Hey this would be an interesting project. Let's just host scholarships and post them on a WordPress blog. And see what happens!'"
Cosmopolitan sat down with the Geiger brothers to talk scholarship opportunities, student debt, and how to fund your education without going flat broke.
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Scholarships360 FoundersWill Geiger, CEO (Right)Brian Geiger, COO (Left)
What was the inspiration for founding Scholarships360?
Will: I wanted to work in college admissions and thought this might help in my job search. We were just trying to create a decent, trustworthy site for students. One of the things we’ve invested a lot of time and effort into is creating really stellar content. Originally I had written a lot of the content, leaning on my experience in school counseling to give students a very authoritative, expert view on things. We now have a team of educational experts and practitioners to review and fact check content. Students are making a big financial investment and we want to make it clear to them that they will be getting the very best information for free.
Brian: We were trying to scratch an entrepreneurial itch. We’ve always been interested in different businesses and applying creativity to solving problems. We went from starting as a blog and then newsletter to now a full blown app and platform for students and their families.
What separates Scholarships360 from other scholarship programs?
Brian: I think we are the only scholarship site founded by a former college admissions counselor. Shout out to Will. The original frustration with finding scholarships online back in 2010 was you’d hop around to different scholarships, click on them, and then realize they are not even being offered this year, or the information is out of date. We always make sure to have a human reviewer, someone who can go through a check list and make sure the scholarship doesn’t require a fee. We are just making sure we are putting students first and giving them accurate information. We also fund tens of thousands of dollars of our own scholarships. We are committed to building a bigger pile of scholarships.
What about the people who have existing student loan debt? Can Scholarships360 do anything for them?
Will: That’s a big thing we are working on now that the federal student loan pause comes to an end. It's important to understand what types of payment plans you might qualify for. We have a lot of resources at Scholarships360 that can help students save money over time. There are so many professions that will eventually lead to loan forgiveness or have student loan benefits for employees. You can also refinance your student loans at lower rates. No one wants to be stressed out over student loans. We can’t wave a magic wand and make them go away right now, but we definitely have the resources to help ease the burden.
What about students who are not confident in their writing abilities? Are there other scholarships tailored to them?
Will: That’s one of the biggest misconceptions about scholarships is that they are all purely focused on academic achievement. We also have no-essay scholarships, and scholarships where students can apply by creating videos. Another is called the Duct Tape Scholarship where students create a duct tape prom dress or tux and most creative student wins a scholarships. There are also scholarships for students that are interested in the arts and entrepreneurship.
Brian: A common mistake people make is thinking there are only scholarships for high school students, but we profile so many scholarships for college, graduate programs, and returning students. It’s a big universe of opportunities to help all kinds of students... it's just a matter of finding them, but that’s where we come in to help.
Will: I think the Mom to Scholar Scholarship, which our mom, who is an editor for Scholarships360, funded. That scholarship aims to support moms who are going back to school to finish their degree. We get great stories from applicants. No matter where you are in life, you can still have opportunities to make an education more affordable and get to move on to a new chapter.
College costs are continuing to rise and so many people are struggling with student debt. How do they think we start addressing those problems beyond scholarships?
Will: Prospective students can use the Net Price Calculator to get an estimate of need-based financial aid before applying, consider colleges that offer merit scholarships to a percentage of students, and consider alternative pathways to a college degree like going to a two year college first. Students struggling with their student loan payments can consider opting into an income-driven repayment program (if they have taken out federal student loans) or refinancing their student loans (assuming they can refinance at a lower interest rate).
Will: Starting a business can be stressful and lonely. Just having that amount of trust and in some cases, lack of boundaries is helpful. We are constantly picking up the phone, calling each other and talking about work stuff. It’s a bit hard not to talk about it because it’s all you are thinking about when you are a startup founder. You have to work with people you trust. Everyone on our team is great and we feel very fortunate that we get to work with fantastic high-caliber people.
Brian: Knowing each other for 29 years, and same with my mom, there is no one else I’ve had that history with. I think we lucked out that we do get along and get a kick out of each other, especially during tough times. We all bring unique skill sets to the business. After getting her graduate degree, our mom taught introductory writing courses at the community college, so she manages our team of writers, Will’s background in admissions and education is incredibly helpful as we are building relationships with universities, and my background in technology and finance is useful for the business operation of our company. We just need a job for our dad. Maybe he can hand out flyers.
Tori Polizzotto is an executive assistant & writer at Hearst Magazines for brands such as Cosmopolitan, Women's Health, ELLE, & Esquire. She grew up in NYC as a competitive dancer and later graduated with a B.S. in Fashion Media from the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising. Tori still remembers the first time she ever read a magazine, and how it sparked her love for journalism. When she’s not writing, she’s usually falling down a TikTok rabbit hole, eating pizza, and binging reruns of Sex & The City. Follow her on Instagram!