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Taco Bell is giving away $21 million in college scholarships—and they don't care about SATs or GPA

Courtesy of Taco Bell

Taco Bell wants to help send you to college.

The Taco Bell Foundation, has announced that it will be giving away more than $21 million in college scholarships by 2021. To apply, students must submit a two-minute video describing their passion. That's it — no grades, essays or test scores required.

Earning a college degree gives you a serious advantage in the workforce. College graduates consistently out-earn workers with just a high school diploma and, according to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce 65 percent of all jobs in the American economy will require education beyond high school by 2020.

But most Americans struggle to cover the cost of college and philanthropic efforts like Taco Bell's have become increasingly common among major corporations interested in appealing to young consumers. While vacation giveaways and celebrity endorsements used to be tried-and-true marketing techniques for brands, efforts like Taco Bell's reflect changing priorities. In February, Natural Light announced that it would be giving away $1,000,000 to help grads pay off student loans.

Courtesy of Taco Bell

The Taco Bell Foundation has offered the Live Más Scholarship for four years now. The initiative was originally designed to give away just $10 million, but the organization recently decided to double its efforts.

"We know that affordability is a major barrier to education," said Tina Nguyen, Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation, in a statement, "so we hope that by doubling our funding we can double the number of doors opened for young people, and remove twice as many obstacles for innovators, creators and dreamers."

The Live Más Scholarship offers students between the ages of 16 and 24 prizes ranging from $5,000 to $25,000. Students have until by February 21, 2019, to submit their video applications and do not need to include their SAT scores or grades.

This year, the Taco Bell Foundation plans to give away over $4 million in awards, with roughly $1 million going to students who work for the fast-food chain. So far, the fund has awards $5.8 million in support to approximately 600 students.

One of those lucky winners is Heidi Estrada, who dreams of entering politics. When she was accepted by George Washington University last school year, Estrada feared the cost would be prohibitive.

"When I received my acceptance letter, I was like 'Oh my goodness!' At first, I did not think that I could get into that school," says Estrada, in a video produced by Taco Bell. "And then second of all, I looked at their sticker price and I thought, 'There's no way I can come up with this money."

In May, Estrada received a $25,000 scholarship and this fall, she became the first in her family to go to college.

Heidi Estrada receives a $25,000 Live Más Scholarship to attend George Washington University. She is the first in her family to attend college. 
Courtesy of Taco Bell
Heidi Estrada receives a $25,000 Live Más Scholarship to attend George Washington University. She is the first in her family to attend college. 

The decision to not consider SAT scores or grades when evaluating applicants differentiates Taco Bell's initiative from many other scholarships.

"Most scholarships are geared toward traditional academic and athletic tracks," Nguyen tells CNBC Make It via email. "We saw a need and opportunity to support the hardworking innovators and creators whose passions may not fit into these two categories, the students who find success by breaking the status quo."

Beyond Taco Bell, researchers have raised questions about whether figures such as test scores and grades actually reflect a students abilities or simply demonstrate a student's financial well-being.

Last year, the foundation received roughly 8,000 submissions. "We decided to focus on passion instead of grades or essays to reach this unique audience, and to empower young people to pursue their dreams — no matter what those dreams may be," Nguyen says.

The winners of the Live Más Scholarship will be announced in the Spring of 2019.

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