More than 150 area high-school seniors attended a workshop at the University of Washington Saturday to get an edge in the application process for big, national scholarships.

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A scholarship junkie needs a compelling story. Good test scores. Decent grades. And a 500-word essay that’s succinct and inspirational.

High-school seniors may spend hundreds of hours applying for scholarships in the hopes they won’t have to pay for increasingly pricey tuition with loans. But only about 5 percent of college freshmen have scholarship money.

On Saturday, more than 150 area high-school seniors went to a workshop at the University of Washington to get an edge in the application process for big, national scholarships.

“Students realize, I think, college costs are rising,” said Sam Lim, a University of Washington graduate and presenter at the event. “We’re pushing this a lot: Look for all the scholarships you can find.”

Lim applied for 75 scholarships while he was a high-school senior in Spokane.

“I just went crazy,” he told the students Saturday. “Everything I could get my hands on, I applied for it.”

His work paid off. He won 19 scholarships — enough for a full ride to UW — and got to meet Oprah Winfrey. He learned a lot about how to win scholarships, too, and now he’s trying to pass on his secrets to high-school kids through the organization he founded in 2008, Scholarship Junkies.

Saturday’s workshop was put on by the Dream Project, a UW mentorship program for local high-school seniors who are low-income or would be the first generation in their families to go to college. The workshop is free and open to any high-school senior. About 80 college-student mentors help the high-school seniors through the application process, guiding them through the forms online and advising them about writing essays that will stand out.

Shakela Little, 18, doesn’t have any money set aside for college — but she knows she wants to be the first in her family to go.

She’s trying to boost her chances by joining clubs at her school, Federal Way High. She’s taking part in track this spring.

Saturday’s presentation had her thinking about all she’s overcome, and how she can explain it in a few hundred words for scholarship applications.

“I want to be the first one in my family (to attend college), to help my little sisters and my little cousins figure out what to do,” she said.

Ikran Ali, 17, attended a session in a computer lab Saturday morning, preparing to write an essay for the Horatio Alger Scholarship.

Around her, other students were asking questions: What if I don’t live with my parents? What if I don’t have a copy of last year’s tax return?

Ali’s grades are not the best, but she wants to go to nursing school, maybe at Washington State University. She wanted to write an essay about her family’s move to the Seattle area from San Diego in the middle of her junior year.

Her parents are immigrants, and she is the second of seven children. They support her going to college, she said, but figuring out how to pay for it? “It’s kind of on me.”

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com