[Interview] ‘Million Dollar Scholar’ Derrius Quarles’ Scholarship Tips + Study Playlist

Photo: (Facebook.com/milliondollarscholar)

Photo: (Facebook/milliondollarscholar)

Derrius Quarles has a few suggestions for setting the mood: Bruno Mars, Common, One Republic, Kendrick Lamar…

Because a good study playlist (obviously) can make a world of difference when it comes to finishing those scholarship applications. Derrius should know. He wrote the book on winning the scholarship race, after all, and while brain-boosting music may push you toward the finish line, Derrius shares plenty of insight on how to be a strong contender from the start.

The road to higher education wasn’t neatly paved for the Chicago native. When he was just five years old, one year after his father was murdered, the state moved Derrius into foster care, where he bounced from home to home for nearly a decade. College must have seemed a long-shot at times — but college backed by $1.1 million in scholarship money? Opportunities to travel the world? You’d better believe it. In the interview below, Derrius explains how a little tough love from a certain biology teacher woke him up to his Million Dollar Scholar potential.

ACT: We’ve been big supporters of college affordability campaigns (like those at Get Schooled) for years. It seems that Winning the Scholarship Race is the book we’ve been waiting for! On behalf of frustrated applicants everywhere, thank you for sharing what you learned. How would you describe your experience weeding through all of the information out there? Exhausting? Exciting? Enlightening?

DQ: The process of gaining information on the scholarship application process had a bit of all those “E” words in. I would probably add frustrating because there is not a lack of information out there about what to do, just a lack of good information.

MillionDollarScholarBook-InsertACT: So just how does one spend $1 million in scholarship money?

DQ: Pay for an undergraduate and graduate degree, travel around the world, and create a business that helps others do the same. Of course, there are other things one can do, but this was my vision.

ACT: For readers wondering if college is right for them, what makes the learning experience different than high school classes?

DQ: For students who have a creative spirit and look at learning as more than a one–way street (teacher giving student information) college provides the ideal environment to explore and become a critical thinker. College is also more than gaining skills and knowledge from books and professors, it is a place to gain awareness about oneself and about one’s life purpose. The people around you: friends, professors, professional acquaintances, and strangers are all individuals who can potentially help you advance and become a better person, something that may not be promoted as much in high school.

Lastly, the opportunities to learn outside of the US are much more accessible in college. I have had the opportunity to travel to over 5 continents and 10 countries in college, the first being Ghana. There was a direct connection between what I was learning about the country in classes and the social issues I observed while there. This type of relationship — learning and application — is something I seldom felt in high school.

In short, go to college.

ACT: You’ve talked about turning points in high school. Would you be willing to share a story with us?

DQ: One of the most profound was when I was offered an opportunity to take a summer class with a high school biology teacher. I was not very interested but ended up taking the class. I missed the first day, and showed up late for the second one and when I came in she told me to step outside. There she gave me some life changing words, “Derrius, you have so much potential, yet you chose to waste it”. Her scolding was both encouraging and greatly disheartening. Disheartening because I had just realized that the only thing that was holding me back was me. Encouraging because she was the first to ever explicitly tell me that I had potential in just about anything. From that point on I looked at the world as one where continuing to focus on the roadblocks in my way would only hinder me, rather, focusing on how I would overcome any challenges in my way would be the key to any goals I wanted to achieve.

ACT: Sometimes it seems like education in America is in need of a check-up, a tune-up and a few emergency procedures. You’re moving toward a career in medicine. How would you diagnose the system? If it needs treatment, any suggestions?

DQ: Wheeew. Where do I start? I would say education is in a state of malaise. I think we have continuously made advancements in our higher education system, which is to be applauded, but it seems we have lost sight of the importance of accessibility. If we have the best colleges in the world, but they increasingly become accessible only to Americans and international students from relatively affluent backgrounds, then what have we achieved? If we continue to spend more and more on K-12 education, but educational outcomes continue to remain stagnant, what have we achieved? These questions are coming to the forefront of the overall education debate. I speak from experience when I suggest that our focus in answering these questions must shift to making vis-a-vie higher education more affordable without looking at online education as a savior.

ACT: OK. Very important: Do you listen to music while studying (or filling out stacks of applications)? Playlist recommendations welcome.

DQ: Definitely, I love music. Depending on the type of mood or what work I am doing. Here are some suggestions:
One Republic – “Feel Again”
Kendrick Lamar – “Real”
Robert Glasper ft. Lupe Fiasco – “Always Shine”
Common – “Gold”
Bruno Mars – “Locked Out of Heaven”

That’s a little preview.

ACT: What’s the first step in finding scholarships? It can be intimidating — and daunting — for high school students out there!

DQ: The first step to finding them is to use Google and do a broad search. Then sign up for a scholarship search engine like Scholarships.com. These will provide a vast list of opportunities that one will need to filter through. It is initially time-consuming and confusing, but will become much easier as more time in spent practicing.

ACT: Any additional words of wisdom for our readers?

DQ: Seize each day and never let folks tell you are too young to begin doing something because you probably very well can.

Learn more about Derrius Quarles (and his book, Winning the Scholarship Race) at Million Dollar Scholar — and check out Get Schooled for additional resources to kick your scholarship search into high gear!

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