After Femi Adebogun moved from Nigeria to Baltimore, he quickly found himself immersed in the internet, which he leveraged — at the age of 11, no less — to build products that would automate work processes. At 16 years old, he sold his first major product and would continue to sell his services to several firms that, with his help, cut down five hours of operational work to 15 minutes.
“It was all around this idea of automating work that you know you need to do but you don’t want to do,” Adebogun explained to In The Know.
But, like any teenager, Adebogun also had other priorities on his mind.
“It was May of 2017 where I kind of had these two, I felt like, life-ending questions I needed to get after,” he joked. “The first was asking my friend Christina if she would go to prom with me, and the second was how I was going to pay a $60,000 tuition bill.”
As the son of immigrants who knew little about how to navigate the college application process and with little support from his high school guidance counselor, Adebogun, who was then attending Franklin High School, said he had to learn how to apply for financial aid himself. While working on his applications, he’d visit sites such as Scholarships.com, only to be redirected to multiple other sites and find himself even more confused.
“I was like, ‘I kind of want to put an end to this,'” he recalled. “I remember someone had asked Scholarships.com back in 2001/2002, ‘Is it possible to make a universal application for all of this?’ And they haven’t really said no.”
Determined to resolve this issue not only for himself but for others as well, Adebogun, now 20 years old, set out to determine what sort of financial aid was available to prospective college students. His research led him to four main buckets: government aid (which includes federal and state assistance), institutional aid (financial support from the colleges and universities themselves), scholarships and loans.
“For me, when I was going through this, it was learning about the four buckets and then learning how to piece those buckets together,” he said. “I had to grasp on very quickly.”
Adebogun would go on to briefly attend the University of Redlands in Southern California — for one semester, to be exact — before completely devoting his time to his new business venture alongside co-founders Evan Farrell and Caleb Cross: ScholarMe.
“I was chatting with the former CTO of Goldman Sachs around stuff like bills, and I had this idea that I don’t know I should continue building on, which was ScholarMe,” he said. “He was like, ‘I want to invest, so you should go build it.'”
Launched in 2018, the free college financing platform aims to help make paying for higher education easier by streamlining the application process. Adebogun said the site first tackled the complicated issue of applying for multiple scholarships at once. Through word of mouth, ScholarMe’s user base quickly grew to a few thousand users, allowing Adebogun and his co-founders to focus on simplifying the application process for other forms of financial assistance, including federal and state aid.
Though Adebogun declined to reveal how much ScholarMe has raised so far in funding, he noted that his staff has grown to nine people. His company is also on pace to hit one million users in the coming months. Most of the students who are currently using the site — nearly 80 percent of whom are female — come from Texas, California, Florida and New York.
“Population-wise, we’re looking at about 30 percent of our users being African American, another 14 percent being Hispanic/Latinx and the majority being Caucasian users,” he added.
Adebogun said he only expects the platform’s user base to grow, given its accessibility. Students can easily apply for hundreds of scholarships using ScholarMe’s Universal Scholarship Application. From there, they can also apply for loans with lower interest rates using the ScholarMe Comparison Tool. Since its inception, the company claims it has helped more than 100,000 students fund their college tuition.
“A lot of the user feedback [we’ve received] centers [on] this idea of like, it feels like ScholarMe actually has the students’ back,” Adebogun said. “A couple of comments pulled from our company’s kudos channel say, ‘I love how easy ScholarMe is to use and how it shows you what you’re eligible for. I love the site so much.'”
Ultimately, Adebogun said he hopes students take advantage of what’s available to them — especially a platform like ScholarMe.
“First and foremost, start early,” he said when asked for what advice he would give to incoming college students. “Use a service like ScholarMe or try and research what you need to get started on a month-to-month basis. Right now, as Oct. 1 comes around, students should be applying for FAFSA as early as they can. FAFSA works on a first come, first served model, similar with state programs, so you want to be in the door as early as you can. The next thing you want to do is pace yourself … [so] you’re not overworking yourself.”
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