Blog / Financial Aid: Scholarships

Finding the Dollars to Make the Dream

written by Jessica Anderson, Financial Aid Coordinator


For more than 12 years, Shepherds College has been inspiring goals and making dreams possible. When the first students came to campus in August of 2008, the journey of Finding Hope, Fulfilling Dreams had already begun because a few key people had taken those steps of obedience and courage. At that point, many of us had never even heard of Shepherds College – or even Union Grove, Wisconsin! Yet God was already working His good plans and purposes, planting seeds of dreams for future students.

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Amber McMurray is one of those students. Studying Culinary Arts, Amber is an enthusiastic member of the Class of 2022. Inspired by the amount of financial aid that Amber received, I asked some questions of her and her mom, Angela.

Amber’s journey as a Shepherds student began 12 years ago. When I asked, “How did you first hear about Shepherds College?”, I was expecting an answer like, “I attended such-and-such college fair three years ago.” However, as Angela excitedly told me, “Amber was eight!” A Shepherds Sunday event used to happen every year at Walnut Hill Bible Church, and the last year Angela remembers one of those events taking place was the year Shepherds College opened. It sounded like a great opportunity, so Angela kept Shepherds in the back of her mind until, when in high school, Amber started expressing a real desire to study Culinary Arts. They remembered that Shepherds College offered Culinary Arts so they started exploring the website.

Skip ahead a few years to when Amber had her Experience Shepherds College Visit (ESCV) in the first few weeks of her senior year of high school. Angela still has the printout of Amber’s text from that week: “I don’t want to come home! I want to stay here now!” Even so, as anyone who receives a tuition bill can testify, college is not cheap; a dream that big takes preparation and work.

Amber’s enthusiasm reinforced Angela’s realization that they had a lot of work to do to pay for college the following year. Together, they decided to pursue available resources, even outside of what Shepherds could offer. In early January of Amber’s senior year, they went to a scholarship informational session through her school district. There were many scholarship options available – but they were all due by the end of February! One application in particular, which was a mantle for multiple smaller scholarships, was projected to take 2-3 hours to complete. Amber completed that application – and at least 15 others!

When asked how challenging the scholarship applications were, Amber emphatically responded, “I worked day and night on those!” Angela agreed, saying, “Amber spent more than 100 hours on all those applications. She did the bulk of the work; she sent the emails, she asked for letters and references, she signed the papers.” With four other children and their own business, Angela and her husband would have been hard-pressed for time anyway. By this time, Amber was enrolled for the Fall of 2020, and she already was proving herself to be capable of the Shepherds College character traits such as Responsibility and Initiative.

Amber worked rigorously on all those scholarship applications, finalizing the last signature and stamp just a few days before everything was due. When Awards Night arrived, Amber and her parents attended excitedly – nervously – knowing that Amber had been awarded at least one of those scholarships. Yet Amber’s name was called over and over! Amber reflects, “It was amazing! Mom was in tears that night!” Angela agreed, smiling, and added, “It was surreal – knowing where Amber’s come from – and where she’s going… Other parents came up to me to ask, ‘How did Amber get all these scholarships?!’”

If I may guess what helped Amber to stand out from the crowd, I’d say “passion” or “enthusiasm.” A smile is contagious, and I bet that Amber’s smile was beaming through those applications! In addition to scholarships from her county and one from her church, Amber was also awarded a Professional Referral and a Foundation scholarship through Shepherds. For her first year at Shepherds, Amber applied for about 45 scholarships – and as of April 2020 when this interview was initiated, she had completed almost as many to help fund her second year. Amber eagerly admitted, “I’ve learned to advocate for myself. I make it a priority; I invest time and energy into those tasks. This year is easier but still challenging. The effort helped me to get to college and to have this amazing experience!” Now, in February 2021, she’s busily working to fund her third year!

Amber’s financial aid included more than scholarships. Currently, many Shepherds students receive Federal Student Aid as well as state funds, often initiated through DHS. Throughout Amber’s senior year, Angela pursued a Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) Training Grant as well as IRIS, which is a Medicaid-based funding source available for individuals with disabilities. With signed forms and clarifying information, Shepherds can partner with both DVR and IRIS* as they help the eligible student pursue goals and receive a high-quality education, often resulting in a training grant.

Amber is an example of hope when thinking about paying for college. Her example of Diligence and Responsibility clearly shows how pursuing financial aid can be worth the effort. For Amber, the effort has paid off so well that now Amber pays her tuition bill from her monthly Social Security income. That’s incredible evidence for Angela that chasing funding sources has made a big difference for their family. She encourages students and parents to put effort into finding options saying “a ‘no’ is not always a ‘no’ when it comes to a decision about a training grant.” In fact, in the Financial Aid Office, I have seen from other families this same evidence that an initial decision might just be altered when the student’s story of passion and success through Shepherds is caught… like a smile.

*IRIS is unique to WI students. Other states have similar Medicaid waiver programs that, so far, have not crossed state lines.

If you haven’t seen the video of when Amber received her Acceptance Letter, I believe it will inspire you: