Grad who earned $200K in scholarships starts business to help others

By Emilly Davis | edavis@mlive.com

FLINT, MI-- Flint native Alexis Lenderman earned more than $200,000 in scholarships as an undergraduate at Western Michigan University.

Growing up in foster care, Lenderman knew she wanted to go to college but had no idea how she was going to pay for it. After a lot of research and applications, she received 10 scholarships her freshman year, with a $10,000 refund.

Lenderman then went on to fund the rest of her college career, including eight study abroad programs, completely with scholarship money, earning more every year. Now as an alumna, she’s teaching others how to find scholarships and funding for college with her business, The Scholarship Expert.

The average amount of student loan debt for Americans who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2017-18 was about $29,000, according to the College Board. Lenderman graduated with $0 in student loan debt, and wants to help others do the same.

Lenderman always stresses to people that what she’s achieved is not impossible, she said. It just takes planning and resourcefulness. Since 2016, she’s helped roughly 400 people with their scholarship search through one-on-one consultations, workshops and mentorship.

“It’s just really teaching people what it is that worked for me, because I can only speak from my lens and my experience,” Lenderman said. “But there is a formula to it, and there are clear avenues of where to look and where to find scholarships, and most people don’t understand that.”

With Lenderman’s help, her fiancé Justin Black -- also a foster youth -- earned more than $170,000 in scholarships throughout his career at WMU.

“From watching Alexis, I learned to be resourceful in finding funding for the opportunities that would usually be outside of my reach as a foster care alumnus myself. I’ve been able to complete five study abroad programs,” Black said. “Alexis helped me to take part in all the opportunities available to me without the restraints of my financial situation.”

In December 2019, Lenderman and Black officially launched The Scholarship Expert together with the hope of helping students all around the U.S. find scholarship opportunities for college.

The Scholarship Expert offers three main services: The Scholarship Blueprint Course, The Scholarship Blueprint Ebook and The Perfect College Student Planner. They vary in services and prices.

Lenderman said it’s important to her and Black that they make an effort to help out children who, like them, grew up in circumstances out of their control and want to make a better life for themselves through higher education. Unfortunately, she said, it can be difficult for those kids to easily access information about college and scholarships.

“I care about filling the information gap, how much resources and knowledge is kept withheld,” Lenderman said. “It’s always the ‘haves and have-nots’ at the end of the day.”

Applying for federal financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA) is one of the most important steps to take when finding ways to pay for college, Lenderman said. While it seemed like the obvious first choice to her, she said she’s always shocked at how many people skip that step.

Over a third of 2018 high school graduates didn’t complete the FAFSA, according to Nerd Wallet. As a result, more than $2.6 billion in financial aid went unused in the 2018-19 academic year. Taking that into account, part of The Scholarship Blueprint walks students through the process of filling out the FAFSA.

Additionally, Lenderman said the majority of high school students don’t get much college preparation help from their school. If they’re lucky, they might get one hour of college advising, she said.

“You can’t make a conscious good decision on college or anything with one hour of advising,” Lenderman said. “High schools, especially low-income high schools have maybe one adviser for a couple hundred, couple thousand kids, and that’s just not feasible.”

Black said he is excited to see The Scholarship Expert grow and help students access more opportunities, particularly fellow African-American students.

“Personally, I am determined to position black and brown students to receive funding and opportunities to further benefit the future of their community,” said Black. “This will ensure that they have the freedom to explore, learn, and take risks as young professionals.”

Link to the original MLIVE article HERE