ATLANTA - If you saw money on the table and you knew it belonged to no one, it was free, wouldn't you take it? Yes. But over and over again, college students are passing up free money.
"My full college education was paid for. In scholarships and grants. I did not take loans at all," Tenisha Taylor Bell said.
Oh, wait, it gets better. She actually came out ahead after four years at an out-of-state, private college. Yeah, she made money. That's why her friends called her the "Scholarship Queen."
"I had so much money my senior year that I bought a car and had a big lump cash down payment. It was from my refund check because I had so much scholarship coming in from different organizations from private organizations to corporate foundations and also from civic groups as well."
Tenisha Taylor Bell had to scramble to pay for college. When she was a child her father was senselessly murdered. The family lived in Chicago. Her mother had saved money for her for a state school. But she wanted to go to Clark Atlanta University. Her mother's advice?
Ms. Bell vividly remembers, "She said you have to find a way or make one."
And this where her other nickname comes in - Tenacious Tenisha.
"It was my job every Saturday to get on a bus, to take three buses, and and to go all the way downtown. We didn't have internet and laptops back in the day and it was my job to scout out scholarships."
And boy, they were everywhere. Truly. Money out there for the taking that no one seemed to be taking. NerdWallet says in 2014, $2.9 billion dollars in free federal grants was left on the table. Not to mention all of the untapped private scholarship cash out there that never gets accessed.
Let the expert explain how to get it.
"Think about what makes you unique. And what brings you to the table. What's unique about your story or your back story and write those things down. Those are the things that you search for," said Tenisha.
My daughter is only seven, but I gave it a try. I wrote down two things off the top of my head about her. She is deaf in one ear. She was born with a medical condition called a hemangioma. Guess what? There are scholarships for deaf students, for students who suffered hemangiomas, and one for people who became deaf from a hemangioma. That's three right there.
Tenisha says there is a scholarship for everyone.
"There were scholarships for the left-handed student or the minority student or the female student in STEM or for students who had a parent who was a victim of homicide. Or, if their parent was a veteran or a cancer survivor."
I found a scholarship for Aggressive Scholarship Applicants - the person who applies for the most scholarships can win money for school. Cutest prom couple on Instagram? Well, only two couples so far have submitted pictures. Get yours in there and win $1,000 for college. If you can think of it, it's out there.
"There are so many scholarships out there. There is money on the table," Tenisha adds.
This former news executive and adjunct professor at Kennesaw State University also heads a scholarship fund in honor of her father who was killed by teens. She just gave a young, potentially at-risk teen a $2,000 check.
So what's holding you back? Too busy? Well, make it your part-time job - earning free money for college.&
Listen to Tenisha's advice, "Think about when you come out of school when graduate; you can take that trip you wanted to take. Or, you can have some financial freedom to shop a little bit more or buy a better apartment or buy a better car because you invested in yourself early on the front end."
And you won't have to live in your parents' basement when you graduate college. Less debt means more options. Moving to a nicer place to live on your own. You can even risk starting your own business.
Listen, have some fun with it. There's a fan of junk food scholarship. Clowns, yes, clowns offer cash. Write a winning essay about the number five and you can get a whole lot of fives for your account. Zombies. You like zombies? Well just Google.