Sallie Mae Announces Finalists for “Make College Happen Challenge”

Posted By Abby Perkins on February 11, 2016 at 12:27 pm
Sallie Mae Announces Finalists for “Make College Happen Challenge”
The Newark, Delaware headquarters of Sallie Mae. Kristoffer Tripplaar, AP Images.

Sallie Mae recently named ten students from across the country as finalists in its “Make College Happen Challenge.” The challenge, in partnership with By Kids For Kids, will distribute $25,000 in scholarships among the ten finalists: $10,000 to the first-place winner, $5,000 to the second-place winner, $2,500 to the third-place winner, and $1,000 to the other seven finalists.

The finalists include:

  • Karis from Colorado
  • Nicolas from Georgia
  • Ebony from Georgia
  • Colson from Iowa
  • Kaci from Iowa
  • Mason from Iowa
  • Josephine from New Jersey
  • Alexander from New Mexico
  • Makaila from North Carolina
  • Ellen from South Dakota

To enter the challenge, applicants were asked to “creatively communicate their plan to pay for college,” according to a press release. While the finalists were selected by a panel of judges, who evaluated entries based on “creativity, effectiveness of message, and feasibility and practicality of the plan,” the general public will help to choose the winners.  Voters can see entries, which include animated videos, songs, an illustrated book, and a video game, at

Online votes will be combined with judges’ scores to determine the winners, who will be announced on March 22.

Some highlights from the entries? Ebony from Georgia, age 18, who created a song as her application, said that her biggest obstacle to overcome in making college happen is “keeping her confidence.” She writes, “Being allowed the opportunity to attend [college] will also build up my character as an individual and prepare me for the real world.” Makaila, age 17, wants to work in healthcare and writes, “My overriding goal is to be part of the solution, helping patients and families heal by sharing tools for working through the obstacles life brings.” Nicolas, 16, who created a video game as his application, writes that he “wants to change the world somehow with both [his] artistic skills and passion for technology,” explaining that he wants to “surprise the world with [his] new inventions.” Mason from Iowa, age 17, writes that he is just starting to really understand the importance of college: “College allows you to better yourself in the field of your interest in hopes that you will someday change the world for the better.”

Martha Holler, senior vice president at Sallie Mae, said in a press release, “In many respects, these finalists are already winners because they are taking those all-important first steps to prepare for college.”

Ellen J. Roberts, Director of Corporate Communications at Sallie Mae, said in an email to GoodCall, “Every college-bound student should apply for scholarships, before they start college and every year they’re in college. Scholarships aren’t just for jocks and geniuses – every year, millions of scholarships, worth billions of dollars, are awarded to students with a wide range of aptitudes, achievements, and aspirations. And it’s money that doesn’t have to be paid back.”

In addition to frequently funding scholarships, Sallie Mae also offers a number of tools to help students plan for college expenses, including a College Planning Calculator and a scholarship search tool. Sallie Mae is, of course, also a major player in the student loan space. Today, Sallie Mae owns $10.5 billion in private student loans.

Roberts added, “We encourage students and families to borrow responsibly, and we suggest they supplement their savings by exploring grants, scholarships, and federal and state student loans, and to consider the anticipated monthly payments on their total student loan debt and their expected future earnings, before considering a private education loan.”

CORRECTION: This article originally stated that Sallie Mae held $162.5 billion in student debt. That number is no longer accurate, as Sallie Mae separated from its federal student loan program, which held the majority of that debt, in 2014. The article has been edited to reflect Sallie Mae’s current student loan holdings of $10.5 billion. 

Abby Perkins
Email | Twitter | LinkedIn Abby Perkins attended Davidson College, where she graduated with a B.A. and Honors in English and wrote for The Davidsonian newspaper. Abby's work has been featured on Yahoo! Finance and Entrepreneur. As Managing Editor, Abby is a regular contributor to the GoodCall newsroom, covering education and financial aid.

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