Ayden Berkey

Founder of Access Scholarships

Ayden Berkey is a 2020 college graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied Marketing and Human Resource Management. During her college years, Ayden often felt that she could have benefitted from having a student mentor to help guide her through the college process and help her navigate the “real world”.

After graduating in May in the middle of the pandemic, Ayden found herself unemployed, reminiscing on her college experience, and thinking about how she could help other students to be more successful throughout their school years and beyond, both financially and in general. This led her to launch a free scholarship search engine and resource platform for students, called Access Scholarships.

Access Scholarships is a platform that connects students to both local and national scholarship opportunities of all types and amounts. Since the launch of her website, she has come to leverage social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok to disseminate scholarship content, virtual events, and resources for success to her audience of high school, college, and graduate school students.

Ayden’s ultimate goal with Access Scholarships is to provide as many students as possible with the personalized resources and guidance that they need to succeed. Her favorite part of her work is the time that she spends interacting with students, whether it’s through virtual workshops, her online office hours sessions, or even just through Instagram DMs.

When Ayden isn’t researching scholarships, helping students, making TikToks, or hosting virtual events, she loves to read, cook up a storm in the kitchen, and workout.

Where did the idea for Access Scholarships come from?

The idea for Access Scholarships came to life shortly after I graduated from college. I was home (like everyone else), applying for jobs, and spending a lot of time thinking back to my college experience as a whole and more specifically, what I could have done differently with my experience.

Since my graduation was virtual, everyone kept saying things like “Oh you paid all that money only to not be able to walk across the stage, that’s sad”. This of course was a constant reminder of how much money my degree had cost me, and it led to me thinking about how I wish I had taken more advantage of applying for scholarships while I was in school.

After doing a lot of research on the scholarship and higher education space with one of my uncles, we decided to work together to create a website (Accessscholarships.com) that would be a database and overall resource hub for students who are looking to leverage scholarships to pay for their higher education.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Typically, my day starts with a workout around 8:15am. I find that this is the best way for me to start the day because it gets my body moving, and then when I end up sitting at my computer for the rest of the day, I feel less bad about it because I already worked out!

After a workout, I will log onto my computer and read through my emails.

Because I wear several different hats in my role at Access Scholarships, my day usually consists of a lot of different things. On any given day, I will go through the following tasks:

1) Going through the back-end of my website to update the scholarship database – I will add scholarships I find online that we don’t already have in there, and make sure that scholarship dates, amounts, and deadlines are as updated as possible.
2) Creating content for my Instagram and TikTok platforms (stories, reels, posts, interacting with other accounts and students, hosting live events)
3) Researching ideas for blog posts, reading the latest news on what’s happening in the higher education space, and planning out my content calendar
4) Setting up meetings to collaborate with other creators and organizations and brainstorming for those sessions
5) Checking Google Analytics for my website every day. I like to take the time to go through the pages, rankings, and traffic to monitor how it changes day after day, week after week, etc so I know where to focus my time and where I can make improvements.

One of the main reasons why I am able to be productive is because I use an organizational app called Notion. It helps me to plan a rough outline of what I want to accomplish on any given day the night before, which makes it easy for me to sit down and just get working.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Every idea that I have ever had was probably brought to life from a Google Doc. I live and breathe my Google Docs! I will usually start by bulleting my ideas on a doc, accompanied by bullets containing research, more ideas, and inspiration.

What’s one trend that excites you?

One trend that excites me is the huge uptick in video content over the past few years. As a relatively young person, I definitely can resonate with other people’s desire to consume bite-sized and non-static content. I think that the TikTok video space will only continue to expand, which, while it can be slightly scary, is also super exciting!

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

My level of organization is 100% a key contributor to my productivity. If I didn’t have every project and idea that is going on written out for that specific day, planned into my calendar, or set as a reminder, I would not be able to get nearly as much accomplished.

What advice would you give your younger self?

One of the things that I would tell my younger self is that it is totally okay to create your own path. Like I said, I graduated from college with no job, which was not something that I had ever thought would happen since I had started applying to jobs months before May even rolled around.

Around that time, I spent way too long putting off my business ideas because I was so focused on finding a conventional corporate job. So, if I could give myself any advice, it would be that it is totally okay to create your own thing and just roll with it.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Peanut butter is not good!!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

If you run a website, be diligent with checking your analytics! It is so important to keep track of where your traffic is coming from and which pages people are going to the most because it will ultimately give you a good idea of how to spend your time.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Working with other creators in the scholarship and higher education space through virtual events and social media partnerships has definitely been helpful in growing our audience.

When I am co-hosting an event with another organization, we will both post about it on our social media pages, allowing both of our audiences to become aware of the opportunity. This allows the followers of the organization I am partnering with to become more acquainted with my brand and vice versa.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

When everything with Access Scholarships was still quite new, I was taking an online course on email marketing so I could learn best practices and get acquainted with sending out a monthly newsletter.

I spent so much time planning out my first newsletter and making it look super ~pretty~ which lots of graphics and nice fonts. I thought it looked great! However, my subscribers clearly did not completely agree with me on this, because the open rate for the email was not good. I was so upset because I had spent so much time figuring out how to format it, adding all of the content, and making it look nice.

After that email campaign epic fail, I took a step back and did an experiment of sorts. I went through my own inbox of newsletters that I am subscribed to. I took note of the ones that I actually spent the time to open and read, and of the ones that I usually just opened and deleted or deleted straightaway. In addition to doing this, I took polls on my social media platforms to ask students what their thoughts were on the type of content that they preferred to read. These exercises in combination helped me to come up with an email strategy that now actually works with my audience.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There’s a chance that this already exists, but I have always thought that it would be funny to have an Instagram account dedicated to just making polls to the world to find out if people think that certain products, foods, activities, etc are overrated or underrated.

For example, the other day, my friend and I were eating Talenti ice cream, and I was thinking about how some people think it’s amazing and other people are like “eh, not worth the hype”. I think it would be super cool if it got a huge following because then you would be taking polls with millions of people around the world and finding out general consumer opinions and sentiments. Eventually, you could probably find a way to monetize it through partnerships and brand sponsors, but I haven’t gotten that far yet.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 that I recently spent was on a pair of running joggers. I am an avid runner, yet it’s not often that I spend money on updating things like my clothing or shoes. Before buying these joggers, I would run in the snow and freezing cold in leggings that completely exposed my ankles. So, these were definitely a worthwhile purchase!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Since Google Docs is pretty self-explanatory, I’ll talk about Notion! Notion is a free desktop application, and it’s where I keep track of my content calendar, daily to-do list, and goals for the upcoming month and quarter. You can use this app for literally anything and everything, although I would say that my uses for it are on a pretty basic and non-creative level. When you download Notion, the app will give you a lot of inspiration on ways you can use it, which is super helpful.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

A few months back, I read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s about the true story of Louis Zamperini, who was a track Olympian and POW during World War II. His story is the epitome of perseverance and was so truly inspiring to read.

What is your favorite quote?

“Once in a while, you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right” – Scarlet Begonias by the Grateful Dead

Key Learnings:

● If you are in a period of transition (career-wise) and you aren’t finding a job out there that is calling your name, don’t knock the idea of creating your own!
● It is super important to always keep your audience in mind. Think about where they spend their time, what is important to them, and how they consume information. When you can reach them better and more efficiently, you will be more successful in your endeavors.
● Don’t be afraid to try new things and hop on trends! As someone who waited months to join TikTok as a creator in the higher education space, I only wish that I hopped on the bandwagon earlier.