Searching for Scholarships with Going Merry
Host Jonathan Hughes is joined by Charlie Maynard, co-founder and CEO of Going Merry, who explains explains how to search for scholarships on Going Merry, what makes Going Merry different from other scholarship search engines, how they act as a resource for school counselors, and the importance of applying to both local and national scholarships.
On this episode of The MEFA Podcast, MEFA's Associate Director of College Planning and Content Creation Jonathan Hughes is joined by Charlie Maynard, co-founder and CEO of Going Merry, and Julie Shields-Rutyna, Director of College Planning, Education, and Training at MEFA. Charlie Maynard explains how to search for scholarships on Going Merry, what makes Going Merry different from other scholarship search engines, how they act as a resource for school counselors, and the importance of applying to both local and national scholarships. Jonathan and Julie discuss summer melt and answer listener’s questions about accepting Federal Direct Student Loans.
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
Jonathan Hughes: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the MEFA podcast. My name is Jonathan.
Julie Shields-Rutyna: Hi, my name is Julie Shields-Rutyna.
Jonathan Hughes: And today we're going to be talking about scholarships. Everyone's favorite topic. We have a chat with the founder of Going Merry, Charlie Maynard. Going Merry is one of the more popular scholarship search sites.
We had a great conversation about how the service works. So if you're interested in applying for scholarships or know someone who is, you want to check that out. But first, Julie, what are we going to be talking about today?
Julie Shields-Rutyna: Well, we're gonna take a little break from our normal practice of talking about the news from the higher ED world. And instead talk about a topic called summer melt.
Jonathan Hughes: All right. Summer melt. So explain what that is.
Julie Shields-Rutyna: That refers to the phenomenon of high school graduates who have applied to college. Been accepted. [00:01:00] And, you know, when they leave high school in the spring, they plan to attend college in the fall. But over the course of the summer, they sort of fall away and don't end up attending.
Jonathan Hughes: Okay. And how often does that happen?
Julie Shields-Rutyna: Well, one research project from the University of Pittsburgh found that the rate of students who are accepted to college and don't end up attending is around 20%. So a much higher number than I would've thought. I don't know if you want to include that study in the show notes, Jonathan.
Jonathan Hughes: Yeah, I think we should. And so of course, that leads us to the big question as to why does that happen?
Julie Shields-Rutyna: Well, there are a lot of possible reasons why. So on one hand, you could have a student who just decides they're not going to continue with their plan to go to college because they've chosen a different career path and they're going to do something different.
So if that's the case, the fact that they haven't enrolled, frankly, isn't a concern because they're pursuing a different path [00:02:00] for post-secondary success. So let's put that possibility to the side and focus on students that we do expect to go to college. So one of the main thoughts for those students on why that happens is that when students are in school they have a strong support network to assist in the transition to college.
So maybe a supportive high school where they have teachers and counselors working with them, coaching them, helping them on SATs, applying to college and all of that. And then they leave school. And so they find themselves without that same level of support. And, you know, they have to do things over the summer, like go to college orientation or put a deposit down or choose classes.
And if they don't have additional help to do that, that can be difficult. So there are many community-based [00:03:00] organizations and resources out there. But when summer comes around, sometimes students are not accessing them. I guess there are a number of other things, there's the practical support, right?
Making sure they get to a college orientation or paying the bill, which those are very practical, important things. And there's also kind of an emotional process. So, you know, when students leave school and aren’t surrounded by their friends and their supportive environment like that, they might find it's very scary to think about this big change.
And then they see the costs and they hear about that they need to take out student loans and that can be really scary to have a good understanding of what all that is going to mean. And if they're navigating that by themselves, I think that's where we see them fall off.
Jonathan Hughes: So I guess this all leads us to talk about what can be done to help reduce summer melt. So [00:04:00] what can families and students do and what resources are available to lend assistance?
Julie Shields-Rutyna: Yeah, well, it's nice. Recently, MEFA has a blog post and it was written by our MEFA Pathway Program Coordinator, Ajea Stupart. And we'll put that if you would in the show notes. And she has a lot of notes and suggestions that students can use, I think, to avoid this issue.
So one thing she talks about is the importance of keeping those lines of communication open. So whether it's with their counselor or with a community organization that they've been working with or with the college that they've been accepted to, that can be a really important one. So they could visit the campus, make plans to visit with an advisor, ask questions.
Maybe they even just, you know, go to the bookstore, buy a sweatshirt. Meet other students who are [00:05:00] planning to attend, you know, making as many connections as possible. And I think a lot of that can even be done online. So colleges, you know, put out information about connections. Students to other students who are already there for tips, you know, where's the best place to buy books, any advice on choosing your classes?
So I think the more that students can do to keep those lines of communication open, the better. I did mention things can happen virtually and online. And there are texting services that students can sign up for. One in particular that's mentioned in the blog is called Up Next, and so students can join that and then receive tips and hints to keep them motivated throughout the session.
And I will also mention, because we mentioned that finances and paying the bill and thinking about loans and what that means are such important issues that I think [00:06:00] being in touch with the college about all of those issues, to try to talk things over and get advice, get support, I think is really important as well.
Jonathan Hughes: Yeah. Well, thank you so much. So we'll link to that blog post by Ajea and we'll link to the study that you mentioned just in case folks are interested, but I think it's a really worthy topic. So I want to thank you for talking about it and letting everyone know. Now we'll move to the MEFA mail bag.
So these are questions that have come into us from customers over the past two weeks and answered by our college guidance experts. So, do you have any questions? Remember, you can always reach out to us at email@example.com, or you can call us at 1-800-449-MEFA. You can also find us on social media on Facebook at MEFAMA I think, and on Twitter @MEFAtweets. Today, our question comes to us from Stephanie and she writes.
If we don't [00:07:00] use the option of the Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan in the first year, that is the freshman year, because we have 529 funds to put towards only the first year, what could be available for the loan for the second year? Any information on this will be greatly appreciated. Okay. So I think I understand this, Julie, and I think I know the answer to this question.
So I'm going to give you what I think is the answer to the question and you tell me if you think I'm right. So, I think what the question is asking if people aren't familiar. Students are awarded a certain amount in these Federal Direct Student Loans every year. So for your freshman year, you can claim up to $5,500.
And for your sophomore year, it goes up to $6,500. So what Stephanie is asking is if they don't take that first loan and they want to use 529 funds that they have saved instead, does that hurt their eligibility to get their [00:08:00] money next year, their full $6,500? And my answer is no, you do not have to take that first year loan to be eligible for your sophomore year loan limit.
You can decline some or all of that first year alone and still be eligible for your full Federal Direct Student Loan for the second year. So does that sound right to you, Julie?
Julie Shields-Rutyna: That is absolutely correct. I do have one thing to add though, if you don't mind. Perfectly correct and true. The only thing mentioned there is that over the course of an undergrad education, there are maximums of what a student can borrow in those Federal Student Loans. So, as John mentioned, you're $5,500 the first year, then $6,500 sophomore year, then $7,500 junior and senior year. And so those are maximums. So just one thing to [00:09:00] note is that if you use all of your 529 money on the front end, which can be a really good idea to use your savings before you borrow, but then need more than the Federal Student Loan maximums in the given year, $7,500 the junior year or $7,500 the senior year, you could run into a lot of trouble.
So sometimes it's just good to think out across the four years and make sure you take that into consideration so you wouldn't come up short later. That's the only thing I would add to that.
Jonathan Hughes: All right. Thanks Julie. So remember if you have questions you can call us up at 1-800-449-MEFA or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have a bunch of college guidance experts waiting to answer your call. So now let's go to my talk with Going Merry founder Charlie Maynard. Charlie Maynard is the co-founder and CEO of Going Merry, a scholarship [00:10:00] organization formed in 2018 and has since matched students up with millions of dollars in scholarships.
Charlie, thank you for joining me here on the MEFA Podcast.
Charlie Maynard: It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Jonathan Hughes: Sure, yeah. Your one of the big scholarship organizations. So we always talk about scholarships. You know, people are always interested in scholarships and where they can find them and Going Merry is definitely one of the ones that people ask about and look for.
So it's one that we talk about quite often. So it's nice to meet you, the person who co-founded and as the CEO of that. So before we get into the scholarship process and everything, can you tell everyone briefly about Going Merry and you know, about how you came to start this service and why this was important to you?
Charlie Maynard: Yeah, absolutely. It really is one of those stories of building something that you wish you'd had and couldn't really [00:11:00] understand why it didn't exist. As I was kind of trolling through lots of different scholarship applications myself, but without diving too much into the deep end. So I was, as you can probably tell from my not very Brooklyn accent, born and raised in the UK.
And I did my undergrad at Oxford University where I was supposed scholarship, but took out student loans to cover in full, and it was kind of my first exposure to how complicated financial aid is. And I remember with the government that I had just not really understanding why it seemed to be increasing pretty significantly.
Given the interest rate the government talked about was only 1%. And so just very quickly all the terms within that confused me. And then when I came to the U.S. for grad school, I had my [00:12:00] sort of second experience of that. And firstly just going through the process of trying to find different scholarships and eventually giving up on that, because I had been sort of redirected to so many different websites and entered all the same information, you know, countless times.
And then reverted to student loans again. And I remember one of the really frustrating moments was finding out about scholarships I could have applied for as I sat here in, you know, tens of thousands of dollars of debt. And so, it was something where it was like, oh, come on, this year, they've existed. And, you know, the technology is there to be able to do it. And that really was the catalyst.
Jonathan Hughes: Right. And you know, as you said in the beginning, people are always interested in scholarship. So whenever we post anything on scholarships, you know, it's very popular. People always want to know. When we talk about scholarships, we tend to split them into two categories.
You [00:13:00] have local scholarships and national scholarships. And talk about national scholarships, we talk about search engines, and what some of the options that students or families can take advantage of when we specifically mentioned Going Merry as an option in our presentations. So if you could tell me and everybody listening, what makes Going Merry different from other scholarship searches?
Charlie Maynard: Yeah. And, you know, firstly, I appreciate that. And that's great to hear. We've enjoyed working with MEFA. I think, I checked before this week, we have now 454 high schools in Massachusetts that are using Going Merry, which is awesome to see. So we want to help as much as we can with Massachusetts.
So maybe I'll answer this question kind of on two fronts. The first is specific to those national scholarships and then what I might do as well is tell you a little bit about what we do on the local scholarship side. Try and help on that front as well. But [00:14:00] when it comes to firstly, the national scholarship databases and how we're different, it's probably four main reasons that I would highlight.
That first, and to be very blunt, is we don't sell student data. I think that was one of the things I remember most clearly from using some of the other sites as I was applying to scholarships. They weren't very good at matching me with scholarships, but they were seemingly very good at giving my email address to lots of other companies who would then send me emails.
And so I just remember kind of, I think I still get quite a lot of spam from my scholarships, so much. Ad so yeah, to be transparent, how we make money is we charge a fee to the large national scholarship providers. You know, big organizations like Footlocker, for example, Hewlett Packard, or Sam's Club, who use our software to manage their scholarships.
And so it means we're very much on the student side. It's not a case of, [00:15:00] trying to sell that data or anything like that. The second reason is that we manually check every scholarship that we add onto the site. So we found, you know, particularly the start. As we looked through the different databases, scholarships that were just a lot of out of date information and scholarships that didn't exist anymore.
And so we made it one of our rules that anything added to the site had to come through one of us just to make sure that it was correct. And then the third difference from the student side is that for the majority of our scholarships, that the students can apply directly. We don't have that as a hard and fast rule because we want to make sure we have absolutely everything available.
And so, it's also not that much use if we had just said, okay, you can only apply directly because then maybe students would miss out on some other ones that they would also be eligible for who didn't potentially want to use software or prefer to use pen and paper or whatever it was.
But for the majority of our scholarships, students at can actually apply directly. And so it saves having to click download on a PDF button and submit something. And maybe this is a good segue into local scholarships, but that does seem to be still how you have around 30% of scholarships are administered at the moment.
It’s particularly when you think in terms of what our students do with pen and paper now, it's very little. And so you’re kind of asking them almost to take a step backwards to apply for these, you know, life-changing awards in the end.
Jonathan Hughes: So was that, did you say there were three things or four things, I'm sorry.
Charlie Maynard: Yeah. So then the fourth and final one is more from the counselor's perspective. This does need into what we talk about in terms of local scholarships, because we provide this free tool for counseling. Not only to track what their [00:17:00] students are doing, but also to manage local scholarships on Going Merry.
So they can come to us with this like big packet of 60 or 100 local scholarships. And we can help them actually administer that all through.
Jonathan Hughes: So that means the students can then, cause I said earlier, you know, we tend to split local and national and for the local scholarships, we usually recommend that students go and visit their high school guidance counselor.
And that, you know, the guidance counselor is really the most trusted resource on local scholarships from businesses or organizations. But they can actually go to Going Merry, if the high school counselor uses Going Merry or the high school has decided to use Going Merry to make their local scholarships available to them, that means the student can go and apply for the local scholarships through Going Merry as well.
Charlie Maynard: Yeah, absolutely. So for us, what was the most important thing was to provide students with this one for all of that financial aid. And I think we spoke separately about some of the schools, including some in Massachusetts, that also use us to apply for government grants and to compare different financial aid letters.
So it really is the whole process of working out how to pay for college, you know, specific to scholarships that meant that having local scholarships as well was really important. And that's where we do work very closely with counselors. As you say, I would just for the record, very much agree with what your advice is.
I do think the counselor, as a starting point is pretty much the only piece of advice with scholarships where you can't go wrong. Because they have, you know, effectively act as almost like a gatehouse to the school for a lot of those local scholarship organizations, whether it's a local rotary club or a PTA or something like [00:19:00] that.
Yeah. I would definitely recommend students do that. But within Going Merry as well, there is a section for local scholarships where students will see scholarships specific to their high school or to their residential area. And I think this is a statement of the obvious that you'll very much be aware of, but with local scholarships, we probably see more like a 30% success.
Whereas the national scholarships, it's more like single digits. And so we always encourage the students to prioritize those. If your counselor doesn't manage them on our platform, that probably means that you'll see less, but you may see ones added by other schools in your district or in your county that you can also apply to. So that would be always where we would start the scholarship.
Jonathan Hughes: I think too, you know, your relationship with the counselors really speaks to a sense of trust. I know one of the questions that we get a [00:20:00] lot from students about any scholarships at all, or scholarship searches.
One of the things that we say is, you know, you should never pay to have a scholarship search done. And people sometimes when they're putting their information and they might get nervous, you know, can I trust this? Can I trust that? So knowing that Going Merry has a relationship with hundreds of high schools in Massachusetts and with school counselors, working with them closely, such a trusted resource in their own.
I think it really, really bolsters that sense of trust that you can have in that service. And I was very glad to see that you had a whole page on local scholarships. I wasn't aware of it actually, when I was looking on the site and I thought, oh wow, that's really cool.
That's really interesting. Well, one of the things too, that I love that I saw on your site was you have a page of scholarship winners, the profiles of scholarship winners on the site. Some [00:21:00] of whom have won a lot of money. Typically don’t think of scholarships as, you know, in the tens of thousands, but some of them, you know, the largest amounts have been that. Have you had made this available as a resource for current applicants? What can they glean from those past winners?
Charlie Maynard: Yeah and actually I think, you know, part of the reason we wanted to put that up there is you also show that you have a very realistic chance of winning. I say that with the caveat that as we discussed, particularly the national scholarships, they are really competitive.
That’s where again, the local scholarships are really important. We use a system called Slack for our sort of internal communications. It's basically a messaging platform and, [00:22:00] we have this one channel. Every time we get a scholarship or a provider chooses, a scholarship winner or students that have submits that disbursement information, it pings.
And everyone in the company can celebrate them. It's really cool actually this time of year, because this is when a lot of scholarship results and students are being chosen. And I think the theme that we saw in a lot of the comments that thousands of winners talk about is perseverance.
I don't know if that's particular to this year where obviously everyone has had to persevere, but it's not that many stories of kids that come on, do one scholarship application, and then win $50,000. It's the students that have, you know, spend a lot of time finding it and applying to different scholarships and have just kept at it.
And, [00:23:00] I wish there was a more sort of easier key that I could give on how to be successful with it. But perseverance is absolutely the theme that we see from the recipients so far.
Jonathan Hughes: And how early can students start applying for scholarships on Going Merry?
Charlie Maynard: Yeah. Well, one of the things we spend a lot of time on, and particularly with our work with counselors, is trying to get this idea of thinking about financial aid as soon as you start thinking about college applications.
One of the worst things or worst parts of what we do is actually families that come to us at this time of year and maybe, you know, have this $30,000 gap for that first choice college. And, you know, unfortunately it's hard.
Sometimes you do it. It's definitely possible, but it's not a guarantee by any means that you can do applications that will cover [00:24:00] that gap. And what we really therefore recommend is as a junior, as you start to think about college, you start building what we call a cost-conscious college list.
And so right from the start of the process, you can start to predict what institutional aid you'll get. And we have tools on Going Merry, again, free tools, like everything, on Going Merry that allow you to type in a sort of household income range. And then we can come back and say, okay, well, this is likely what your net cost is going to be, that you need to think about covering.
And it brings forward incorporating financial aid into that college process. And so we really recommend doing that. We again provide lots of lesson plans for counselors to get them talking about financial aid and junior seminars and the like, and at that point, [00:25:00] you'll start to find there are scholarships very much available for your students or for you as juniors as well.
That will probably ramp up as we mentioned at the start in the senior year. But the way Going Merry works is it auto populates all of your information into every application. So any work that you do in your junior year is going to save you a bunch of time next year. Anyway, so it was a very long answer to your question, but I would really start thinking about it from junior year.
Jonathan Hughes: So, thank you very much. And if I realized now I haven't asked you, once somebody decides that they want to start looking for scholarships and they want to use Going Merry, walk me through the process of that.
Charlie Maynard: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, our website is goingmerry.com. And students can come to that.
They don't need to be invited by their counselor or have that school approved or anything like [00:26:00] that. They certainly don't need to pay. Again, they never would be able to pay for anything on our site. And they create an account which takes about 30 seconds to do. And then go through a 10 question onboarding, where we'll ask for the key information that will then allow us to match the students with the scholars.
And what's cool about that is that then allows us to show them immediately scholarships that they're eligible for based on those questions, as well as actually also showing them some of the scholarships that they can apply to even without essays. With potentially, you know, just a quick selfie or a caption competition type thing, or even a short video.
We'll very quickly be able to show the students what's available to them and what's the most efficient use of that time in applying. Maybe the final comment is, you know, financial [00:27:00] aid is this quite intimidating, confusing, process, but there are resources out there, particularly for students that need support most.
There are resources. And so with perseverance, it really can open up college and, you know, college remains just such an important part of the American process of getting into social mobility and that kind of thing. And so we would really recommend taking that time and finding the financial resources that are around that.
Jonathan Hughes: The website again is goingmerry.com. Thank you very much for being on the show.
Charlie Maynard: Thanks for having me. That was great.
Jonathan Hughes: All right. Well, my thanks to Charlie Maynard. That was our show everybody. Julie, do you have anything to add?
Julie Shields-Rutyna: Well, [00:28:00] just that I love talking about scholarships, and people can find out more information about scholarships on the MEFA website. So maybe we'll put the link to that page in the show notes as well.
Jonathan Hughes: I will do that. So remember, if you liked the show, please follow us on Spotify, Apple Podcast, or wherever you're hearing this. And if you could do us an extra favor and give us a five star rating, that would make us very happy indeed. Until then, thanks everybody.