Scholarship search in full swing
Mill Valley High School junior Melissa Schmidt has done all she can to put herself in a position to earn a college scholarship.
Schmidt served on the student council her freshman year and is now an officer on the school's dance team. The grades she earned in two and a half years of college preparation classes have consistently placed her on the honor roll.
"Different colleges stress different things," said De Soto High counselor Cindy Crabtree. "But there are six that are standard across the board. All colleges are interested in grade-point average, class ranking, rigor of course work, leadership and community service. And, of course, ACT scores.
"Get involved in sports or some kind of extracurricular activity. I stress that from the day I talk to eighth-graders to they day they graduate from high school."
As a junior, Schmidt said she hasn't yet applied for a scholarship. That will come next fall.
"I'm going to take a couple of campus visits this summer," she said.
Schmidt took the American College Test for the first time last October. Students are allowed to take the ACT three times, and Schmidt plans to improve her scores on future tests with the help of a preparation course.
"The first time I took my ACT, I didn't take the prep course," she said. "I'll take that this spring and take the ACT again in April. I plan to take it the third time next October."
Mill Valley counselor Carolyn Devane said college-bound students start focusing on the scholarship process during their junior years.
"We start getting into it much more in depth then," she said. "Students put together a list of colleges they're interested in, start lining up the things they will need for applications and checking on deadlines."
Unlike sports stars, colleges usually aren't going to actively recruit most academic scholars, Devane said. Students have to do much of the work themselves through visits, Internet searches and other research, she said.
Devane said she cautions parents and students to be aware of companies offering to help with scholarship searches.
"There are a lot of people that will take your money and offer you nothing you couldn't have found yourself," she warned. "The Kansas Attorney General's Office says you shouldn't spend more than $25 for a scholarship search."
With all the options available, the scholarship search and the task of selecting a college that comes with it can be big jobs. Devane and Crabtree said they have material from expected sources the state's six regent universities, its many private colleges and community colleges and enough out-of-state colleges to fill a bookshelf. Students can earn scholarships from a couple hundred dollars to full rides if they meet criteria, they said. Scholarships aren't limited to schools. Alumni associations, foundations, civic groups, community service clubs and veterans' organizations also provide scholarships.
The trick is matching the school offering the right criteria to the right student.
"You hear about all the dollars going unclaimed," Crabtree said. "The reason is the criteria are so specific, kids don't meet them."
While most students have to search for scholarships, there are exceptions, Crabtree said. Colleges do actively recruit exceptional students.
With PSAT scores high enough to earn her National Merit semifinalist recognition, De Soto High's Jen Thierer has turned the heads of college recruiters from coast to coast. So many, in fact, the senior has lost track of how many schools have written her.
After a year of consideration, Thierer has narrowed her list to Baker University and K-State.
"If one of them offered me a full ride, that would be a major factor," she said. "Other than that, I should be able to get enough that a full ride shouldn't be a factor."
At a recent forum featuring last year's Mill Valley seniors, a student said a scholarship was the difference between a freshman year K-State rather than Pittsburg State, Devane said. Thierer said some of her classmates are in similar circumstances.
"I've heard people who want to go to a college say, 'It's just too expensive.' They take a smaller college that costs a little less.'"
State regent universities are expected to raise tuition before next fall. Perhaps not surprisingly, parents appear to be more concerned about anticipated increases than students, Devane said.
That is not true of Thierer and Schmidt. The students said they want to earn scholarships to relieve their parents of part the burden of their education.
"It's a lot of money," Thierer said. "You don't want to stick your parents with it and you don't wan t to come out of college that much in debt."