Here’s a dirty little secret about scholarships for prospective college students — many of them are awarded for reasons other than athletics, class rank, GPA, and college entrance exam scores! Instead, a record of involvement in community and high school extracurricular activities is one of, if not the deciding factor.
This is especially true for the almost $17.5 billion in scholarships awarded by employers, foundations, and other community organizations. It often sets their scholarship selection processes apart from those of college and university scholarship committees. The latter are often under pressure to help recruit freshman classes that will help their institutions get high rankings in publications such as the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Guidebook. These publications do use factors such as class rank and ACT or SAT scores.
But many scholarship providers reject the selection of scholarship winners based on easy-to-calculate but overly simplistic numerical data. Their biggest such concern is that doing so ignores factors that are so important to success in and after college, things like:
- Soft Skills: Behaviors and personality traits that effect the ability to interact effectively and harmoniously with others;
- Grit: University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth defines grit as passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement without concern for rewards and recognition along the way); and
- Paying It Forward: Doing good for others in response to good done for you.
Young people who engage in school-based extracurricular activities and charitable and other community activities tend to refine such characteristics and bring them to college with them. They also strengthen the resumes many scholarship selection committees evaluate when selecting recipients. And they often have more interesting experiences to cite when responding to the essay questions such committees evaluate.
However, it’s not necessarily the number of activities in which your high schoolers engage, but the persistence and quality of their engagement. Some high school students pad their resumes by joining numerous extracurricular and community organizations and teams, but they often fail to be really active members of those organizations and teams. This makes scholarship evaluators are cynical about resumes listing many short-term, low-level memberships.
So work with your high school students early on to identify activities about which they are enthusiastic and interested. Guide them toward joining in those activities early on, really investing their energy and time in those activities and, as their peers and teammates get to know them, volunteering or even running for leadership positions within those activities.
Taking part in extracurricular and community makes your children stronger scholarship candidates. It also makes high school more interesting and helps your children mature. So urge them to participate!
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