Strategies For Getting A College Scholarship

I attend a quarterly financial planning study group to sharpen my skills, and this month we had an outstanding guest speaker on the topic of maximizing college scholarships. Her name is Catherine Marrs, and she is a Certified Educational Planner in Dallas.

According to Catherine, merit-based scholarships are often much easier to qualify for than need-based. Colleges are often seeking different student profiles to round out their freshman class, so applying to multiple schools increases the opportunity for an attractive scholarship package. Filling out the FAFSA is often necessary to receive merit-based aid as well as need-based, so you should always fill it out even with high household incomes or assets. There are of course many factors that affect scholarship offers, but here are some of the top ones that your child has some degree of control over.

  1. Gradually increasing level of difficulty in the 4-year high school curriculum — Honors, AP, International Baccalaureate Certificate Programs, and increasing number of years in core subjects all help in this area
  2. Grade Point Average — Strong effort and upward trend matter, so even if student has a slow start their freshman year, improving over the remainder of high school enhances their scholarship profile
  3. Test Scores — Good test scores are the easiest way to get scholarships. Be strategic about which test or tests your student takes. The SAT has more “puzzles” and the ACT is more knowledge-based, so if the school accepts either, use the test that plays to your strenghths.
  4. Recommendation Letters — offer an opportunity for student to “be seen” by colleges for more of their whole personality; students should develop relationships with teachers, coaches, or counselors to enable these letters to be more specific
  5. Passionate involvement in a few activities — depth, not breadth, of experience is most important with sports, clubs, community organizations, and religious activities
  6. Examples of leadership
  7. Special talent or experiences — colleges are looking for a well-rounded class of students more so than well-rounded individuals, so highlighting unique attributes can strenghthen the application
  8. Well-written essay — give insight into a student’s unique personality
  9. Demonstrated enthusiasm — visits to campus, staying in touch with admissions counselor, applying early in the regular application cycle
  10. Out of school experience — community service and work experience — do a little bit in this area even if the student doesn’t love it because it demonstrates responsibility, dedication, and development of areas of interest
  11. Demonstrated intellectual curiosity — reading books, research projects, internships
Catherine is truly an expert in this area. She visits numerous college campuses annually to stay in touch with actual scholarship decision making trends. She provides group workshops for students and is available for individual consulting programs as well. Her website is

About the author

Jean Keener, CRPC®, CFDP®

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