As a result of rising college tuition, student loan debt has reached an all-time high of $1.34 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
At private universities, families have to shell out $33,480 for one year of tuition on average. In-state public schools are a cheaper option, though still a major investment, at $9,650 per year.
Without an athletic scholarship, McCormick wasn't sure how she could afford it.
That's when it clicked: "I said to myself, 'Gabrielle, you've got to figure out how to win scholarships.'"
McCormick seemed to be the ideal candidate. She was a three-sport athlete, No. 4 in her class, ran her own art business and participated in several extracurricular activities.
But still, her hunt for scholarships came with roadblocks.
McCormick's research began at a bookstore in her small hometown of Greenville, Texas, 45 minutes outside of Dallas. That netted little. She went to her college counselor almost every day, but she was only "as helpful as she could be."
"I did not know what I was doing, and because of that I wasted a lot of time," McCormick said.
She said through trial and error, she developed a winning strategy.
McCormick didn't qualify for big national scholarships such as the Gates Millennium Scholars program, so she focused on small, local scholarships.
"Everything under $2,000 was what really helped," she said.
McCormick created a "scholarship profile" for herself, identifying important characteristics that could earn her money.
"I literally typed in everything about myself, added the word scholarship and tried to find out if there were scholarships I could win," she said.
McCormick also learned that telling her personal story resonated more with scholarship committees than generic essays about her academic goals.
She used her scholarship essays like a form of therapy, sharing the pain of getting injured, her grandfather's death and her mother's battle with cancer.
"I was so broken as a student," McCormick said. "Scholarships allowed me to really express myself."
She applied for more than 50 scholarships, ranging from generic essay contests to merit-based scholarships to one for sportsmanship.