A woman who won over $500,000 in money for college says there's one key to a successful scholarship application

Kristina EllisWorthy Publishing GroupKristina Ellis, pictured, received over $500,000 in scholarship money.

Kristina Ellis received over $500,000 in scholarships and grants to attend college.

In her book, “Confessions of a Scholarship Winner,” she says the key to a successful scholarship application is telling a story — the story of who you are, where you’ve come from, and where you’re going.

Ellis grew up facing many obstacles: She lost her father to cancer when she was seven years old, which led to her fighting depression and self-harm throughout middle school.

By the end of middle school, she was working summer jobs to help her mother, a Venezuelan immigrant in Indiana, make ends meet. She knew from the first day of high school that she had to figure out a way to pay for college by herself.

Amid all these setbacks, Ellis found ways to overcome them — and that was what she wrote about.

“We all have a story — the journey that makes us who we are. As we navigate life’s twists and turns on the way to our destiny, some of our roads are very winding and full of curves,” writes Ellis. “What matters most is not that you never get lost or stuck … it’s that you get back on the road and continue forward.”

Though many students may be embarrassed to share their obstacles, writes Ellis, it is actually one of the biggest mistakes not to.

Vanessa Evans, associate director of the Ron Brown Scholarship, told Ellis, “Students often tell us their GPA and class rank but forget to tell us who they are. We want to know how they became the person they are. We can get the academic achievement from the transcript, but we want to see what makes them tick.”

Ellis writes:

“When writing essays, think through how each word will touch every one reading it … Show them through stories and specific examples that you exemplify the admirable qualities they’re looking for.”

Keeping this strategy in mind, Ellis received scholarships and grants including the US Presidential Scholarship, the Gates Millennium Scholarship, and the Coca-Cola Scholarship, which paid in full for her undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University and her Master’s from Belmont University.

NOW WATCH: We tried the ‘Elon Musk food challenge’ and lived off $2 a day for a month

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.