After selecting a few colleges and writing the application essays, the next factor of the college application process to consider is institutional scholarships.
Often, a school will automatically tell a student what merit-based scholarships she is eligible for upon acceptance to the college. But some times, a student must take the initiative and apply for different funds.
Either way, to get the most aid available, the applicant needs to have more than just a high GPA. From my experience, the three most important factors involved in receiving the best scholarships are SAT/ACT scores, great study skills, and the ability to communicate well.
Standardized test scores are extremely important to the scholarship application process. They are a way for a college to objectively measure a student’s skills. Along with grade point averages, SAT/ACT scores are the prerequisites for different amounts of aid. A hundred or so points on the SAT can make a $2000 a year difference.
In order to do well on the SAT, I recommend taking the PSAT junior year and identifying any weaknesses. For example, I did somewhat poorly on the geometry questions of the math PSAT. Knowing that ahead of time allowed me to spend time reviewing geometry basics before the big test.
Something else that helped me quite a bit was taking timed practice tests, such as the ones found in The Official SAT Study Guide, which is published by the College Board and available from Seton Educational Media.
Strong Study Skills
In addition to SAT/ACT scores, strong study skills are essential for receiving the most valuable scholarships. Without such skills, there is little hope of earning a good GPA. Furthermore, in order to keep scholarship money for all four years, most schools require students to keep up a certain minimum GPA in college.
One thing I did in high school to better prepare myself for studying in college was listen to Seton’s audio lectures while taking notes. Doing so helped me not only understand my current learning material better, but also readied me for the time when note taking would be essential to doing well.
Communication skills may seem out of place on this list, but when it comes to getting more valuable scholarships, such as ones worth all or three-quarters of tuition, an interview is often required. This was definitely the hardest part of the whole process for me.
I think that being homeschooled helped because it forced me to talk to adults more, but it still took much practice to be able to answer questions with ease.
What helped me most was watching interview skills videos online and then practicing with my parents. We would videotape practice interviews and then watch them while discussing what I needed to improve. It is also super important to have answers ready to common interview questions.
Being Well Rounded
Sometimes, a college representative who is conducting interviews will be very focused on well-roundedness. I know how hard it can be to take part in many extra-curricular activities while still having time for Seton’s rigorous curriculum. My strategy for interviews was to talk about the life skills I learned as a homeschooler, oldest sibling, and piano teacher.
Along with including specific examples and stories and maintaining eye contact, drawing life lessons from my high school experiences vastly improved my interview skills.
I learned quite a bit from the scholarship application process. I had no idea that I had such poor interview skills or just how much of a difference a hundred points on the SAT makes.
However, after all the stress was over, I am happy to say that I received a great scholarship to a great school.