Christopher Gray, Founder and CEO of Scholly.
(Photo: Courtesy of Christopher Gray)
(USA TODAY) Slow economic recovery is lessening some parents' ability to pay for college out-of-pocket - and more households are becoming reliant upon scholarships to finance their child's post-secondary education.
Thirty-nine percent of families used scholarship funds to pay for college during the 2012-13 academic year, based on data from a recent Sallie Mae study - and now there's an app to make finding them easier: Scholly, released in May.
"It's extremely simple," says Christopher Gray, 21, a Drexel University junior who is also the founder and CEO of Scholly. "That was the goal."
Gray, dubbed the "Million-Dollar Scholar," was awarded $1.3 million in scholarships and has spent the past three years helping other families find them as well - but manually searching through untailored database results for each student was tedious and inefficient.
"It was kind of natural to say, 'Hey, I need something that can help,' " he says. "There has to be a faster way."
Scholly uses eight specific parameters - such as state, race, GPA or major - to instantly filter listings into a comprehensive directory of scholarships for which the prospective applicant is eligible.
"The fact that it's on the mobile (phone) really hits the audience," says Soham Bhonsle, 21, a Scholly user and Drexel University senior. "It serves the need of its time. We want it on the go."
Users can quickly sift through the tailored results, save a list of scholarships and export it to themselves via e-mail in order to apply online.
"People wanted something quick. They wanted something new," Gray says.
Apps provide a medium for optimization, unlike websites that can require extra point-and-click time, says Nicholas Pirollo, chief technological officer for Scholly.
Scholly doesn't require users to sign up by entering their personal information - such as a Social Security number and home address - which, according to Pirollo, cuts 95% of the typical time spent searching for scholarships.
"(Scholly) provides a very intuitive ... interface to do things," he says. "We cut a lot of time off the search process."
The app connects users with scholarships relevant to them in about five minutes, he says.
Most of the scholarships Gray found during his quest for funds were for freshmen who were entering college - not current or returning undergraduate and graduate students.
Scholly provides scholarship listings for this demographic.
This aspect was the biggest surprise to Bhonsle, who believed he couldn't receive scholarships because he is an undergrad.
"You don't have to be in high school to be able to apply," he says. "I found out that I qualified for a lot of scholarships I didn't even know of."
The app's database is updated monthly to add scholarships, refresh deadlines and remove scholarships that are no longer available.
Some school districts in the Philadelphia area have deemed Scholly useful for students, Pirollo says.
"We've gotten a really good response. ... We are passionate about it," he says. "We made this because it is something that we really could have used going to school."
Scholly has more than 10,000 downloads to date and costs 99 cents in the App Store and on Google Play.
"The cost of the app is so low because we wanted to be able to serve everyone," Gray says. "I wanted to make it affordable for the people that need it."
The app potentially has a huge payoff, Bhonsle says.
"Pay 99 cents and you may get $5,000 or $6,000 in scholarships," he says.
Gray's goal for Scholly was to be a sustainable business that produced affordable and helpful content.
"Just imagine you create something, and some student ... is being helped by it," he says. "It's been a great experience. And it's been very impactful to me."
Julia Craven is a senior at the University of North Carolina.
Julia Craven, USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent