Scholarships: Paint Your Target

When I meet with High School students, I ask them if they know what a scholarship is…free money to pay for education after high school.  Money that does not have to be paid back.  Free is best.  Students win scholarships based on their merit or their financial situation, and often a combination of the two.  I want students to “Paint a target” on themselves that says “Give THIS kid free money!”.  I am just a mom, hanging out with high school kids….I want them all to win scholarships…here is what I have learned:

The center of the bullseye is GRADES.  Good grades are your surest path to free money.  Many schools offer scholarships based on the grade point average (GPA) a student has at graduation.  Once a student is accepted, those moneys are awarded automatically.  With very good grades, this can be thousands of dollars.  In addition, each school has it’s own scholarships, so look on the website of EACH school you consider to find out which ones you can apply for.  Even Trade/Career schools and Community/Junior colleges offer scholarships and you should plan to apply for those.  Because grades are critical, Seniors need to resist the urge to slack off spring term and let their GPA fall…scholarships awarded for good grades have been LOST this way.

The next ring in the target is set with test scores on either the SAT or ACT.  Those tests were (hopefully) taken at the end of Junior year, and are necessary if you hope to apply to a four year university or college.  Either an ACT or SAT will work, but they are not the same test.  Both last about 4 hours.  Both cost about $50 to take.  Both are torture by test, and reveal how well a student takes a long test.  THEY DO NOT TELL HOW SMART YOU ARE or how well you will do in college.  They also open immediate doors to scholarship money if you do well.  Occasionally to the tune of thousands of dollars.  They are the second easiest way to help you pay for school if you do well.

I am just sharing my opinion:  The SAT is half math, and ideal for math genius kids…except the other half of the test is multiple-multiple choice (very tricky questions).  You are expected to choose the answer which is MOST correct.  They suggest a minimum of 60 hours study time before taking the SAT.  Searching online, you can study for the SAT both at the College Board website (which has LOTS of cool stuff on it besides test review) and Kahn Academy.  Please plan to study if you plan to take a SAT.  Some students are surprised at how well they can unravel those SAT tricky questions.

The ACT’s claim to fame:  they say you do not need to study for their test.  Study hard for your classes, and it will show in both your grades and your ACT score.  Students perceive that it is the easier of the two (I have asked quite a few who have taken both and this is always the consensus).  I generally recommend the ACT, particularly if a student knows they will not be able to study extra for an SAT.   The vast majority of Universities do not care which you take (I have not heard of any at this point who do not accept either test).   There are now colleges who will let a student apply without taking either test…but they are still awarding scholarships to students who DO take the tests and do well.

The next ring in your target is your involvement in school and community:  clubs, sports, leadership, jobs.  If a student has an incredible GPA, this may not matter so much, but for most scholarships, they are awarded to students who demonstrate that they are able to juggle lots of activities along with their ability to maintain a good GPA.  High School offers options that do not exist in later life, so try to be involved and enjoy the sports, clubs, and other groups this unique time of life has to offer.

Last, and certainly important:  Volunteering.  The people who award scholarships are generally hoping to help a student who is going to make the world a better place.  Kids who are involved in their community, helping make the world a better place already, tend to win scholarships.  This is also a key way for a student to explore potential careers.  Job shadowing, or volunteering in a way related to your hoped for career shows determination and clear goals.  If a student is planning to enter the Nursing profession, it is going to look even better if they have volunteered with a hospital, nursing home or some other caring organization like a senior center, meals on wheels or a ministry to shut-ins.

Even if you are unsure what you want to major in, even if you are only a freshman, it is time to start painting your target.  Scholarships can make a big difference in affording college.  It is not impressive for a student to have 6 hours of volunteer time Senior year, and three years prior with none.  The flip side, a student showing up just four hours a month for four whole YEARS is going to get noticed.  Those folks they volunteer with are going to be thankful, and possibly write some very glowing letters of recommendation.  Most scholarships ask students to provide multiple letters of recommendation, so coaches, bosses and teachers become key….but letters from community members are also incredibly valuable.

I am hoping you will share this with the young folks you know:  it is time to paint your target!  Scholarships are not a given except those awarded based on grades. With most, there is an element of chance….but if a student has learned to give to the community, balance academics with extra-curricular activity AND explored some job possibilities, it is all going to help launch one amazing young person into adulthood.  Even if you don’t win many scholarships, it is a great way to spend your teen years.

Stay tuned…I will be writing about different kinds of education choices, so that students can (hopefully) make decisions that they can afford, and still get a job that fits their goals.

Follow me at or at Career Center Mom on Facebook.



Photo credit:  Mike Petrucci on Unsplash


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