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Increasing Your Scholarship Chances

When I was a kid, I loved watching game shows. I don’t remember the particular show, but once in a while, a contestant would enter a phone booth-sized box with transparent plastic walls. The host would turn on a fan attached to the booth and money would start flying around. The contestant would have 30 seconds to catch as much as she could before the fan stopped and the remaining bills fell back to the floor. 

College scholarships work pretty much the same way. As a high school upperclassman, you have a set amount of time to research and apply to college scholarships. The money may not be flying in front of your eyes, but trust me, millions of dollars are out there for the taking. You just need to reach out and grab it.  

How do you get this money before the timer buzzes? It’s simple. You have to have a plan going in. 

1. Start Early

In other words, the moment you start your junior year (or sooner depending on how ambitious you are), you should start researching scholarship opportunities that match your interests, background, etc. There are plenty of scholarships that are a perfect fit for you, but there are also plenty of others where you have no chance or are ineligible.  

The sooner you start creating ‘yes,’ ‘maybe,’ and ‘nope’ scholarship piles, the sooner you can start preparing your application portfolios. 

2. Keep Up Those Grades and Test Scores

As scholarships are a merit-based form of financial aid (Grants are need based.), the first thing scholarship committees look at are your grades and test scores. In fact, many scholarships will not consider your application if you do not meet their GPA or test score cutoffs. In other words, good grades and scores are your ‘foot in the door’; receiving the scholarship is far from guaranteed, but the scholarship committee will take your application seriously. The same statement is true for every college to which you apply. 

Last, but certainly not least, good grades and scores may lead to automatic scholarships (e.g., lottery scholarships) if you attend school in-state.  

3. Choose an Extracurricular Activity and Stick With It

If you have the grades and scores, you can further improve your scholarships chances by showing your commitment to extracurricular activities. In other words, competitive scholarship applicants participate in 1-2 extracurriculars for a least three years of high school. Long-term extracurriculars show your dedication. Also, if you spend enough time in one activity, you can take on a leadership role. 

Scholarship committees love awarding money to leaders. 

4. Volunteer

There are plenty of scholarships exclusive to high school students who volunteer in their communities. No matter what kind of volunteering you perform, keep in mind my tips for extracurricular activities. The longer you do it, the better odds you have of receiving a scholarship. The same is true for leadership positions or times when you took charge (e.g., You create a new volunteering club.). 

5. Get Feedback on Essays and Other Application Materials

Just about every scholarship asks for an essay. What this means is that no matter how excellent your academic or extracurricular accomplishments, submitting a poorly written essay will dramatically reduce your scholarship odds. 

It’s time to reach out to trusted adults, people who can provide honest feedback on your first draft(s). Take their input and run with it. Even if you’re lightyears ahead of your peers in terms of your writing ability, everyone needs feedback. The same advice goes if you’re submitting supplementary materials (e.g., an art portfolio). And when scholarship dollars are on the line, you should do everything possible to stand above the crowd of applicants. 

6. Partner with Financial Advisers

It’s your job to research and apply to scholarships, but there is much you can’t do alone. For example, you have to have an honest discussion with your family about how much they can or are willing to contribute to your college education. 

After that, you, with your family’s help, should research professionals that can advise you about the best way to cover college expenses after scholarships. Financial advisers can be a boon, but they’re usually pricy…but not for myKlovr subscribers.

myKlovr is proud to announce its partnership with Financial Fitness Group (FFG). myKlovr subscribers and their families receive “a dedicated library of content on topics such as education and employment, saving and paying for college, tuition plans, managing student loans and more.” The moment you sign up for myKlovr, review FFG’s advice right away to learn more about the best ways to ensure that you leave college debt free.

Final Thoughts

Like the truth, the money is out there. It’ll be a lot of work on your end, but I hope that with your parents, teachers, and FFG’s help, you can apply to the scholarships where you have the best shot. 

Good luck!

How Important Are Extracurricular Activities to College Admissions?

I’ve been around this great big world, and it seems that of all the cultures I’ve come across, the good ole’ U.S. of A. puts the most emphasis on high school students participating in extracurricular activities. Oh sure, high school students in other countries play sports and participate in clubs, but doing so doesn’t have much of an effect on college admissions.

For you see, in the rest of the world a high school student’s chances of getting into a good college rest entirely on grades and test scores, especially the latter. Seriously, being a high school student in some countries is just like that ham-fisted YouTube movie The Thinning, except without the threat of euthanasia because you scored lower than the mean.

So before we dive into the world of extracurricular activities, let us take a moment to appreciate the fact that your academic future isn’t 100% riding on standardized test scores.

*Moment of Appreciation*

That was nice. Now let’s talk extracurriculars, and how you can use any one of them to work for YOU during college admission season.

So which one should I do?

Simple Answer: Something that interests you.

Complex Answer: No matter which extracurricular or two that you pick, doing two things will help set you apart from the bulk of the competition. First, stick with an extracurricular for at least two years. Second, take on a leadership role where you get to show off your responsible/organized side. Consistency and leadership experience under your belt, you’re already a step ahead of the majority of college applicants.

Just the majority? How do I stand out from high achievers like me?

Simple Answer: Apply a personal touch, even if it means creating your own activity.

Complex Answer: If you’re aiming for a top tier school, you’re right to assume that most applicants will have both consistent track records with extracurriculars and hold leadership positions within them. Here’s how you can go a step above:

  • Create a new club, preferably one that does some good for the community. (College admission counselors love applicants who create volunteer organizations.)
  • Take a creative hobby to the next level.
    • Submit a short story for publication. (And get it published somewhere)
    • Submit your photography or artwork to contests.
    • Start your own company. (Think Shark Tank)
    • Take your band on tour over the summer. (But don’t skip school if you should become famous 😉 )

In other words, apply yourself to your passion, whatever it is. Even if you don’t succeed before college application time rolls around, your journey can make for an excellent personal essay.

Okay, my extracurriculars are great. What difference will they make?

Short Answer: They’re a tiebreaker.

Long Answer: Everyone loves a good story, and for college admissions counselors, an engaging story about an extracurricular activity can act as the tiebreaker between two highly qualified applicants. So, at the end of the day, you need extracurriculars just in case. Doesn’t matter if it’s the French club or your second studio album.

What you’re telling me is that extracurriculars are like an insurance policy?

Short Answer: Yep.

Long Answer: With college admissions getting more competitive seemingly by the minute, there’s a good chance that your extracurriculars will come in handy when the admissions counselor at Your Dream School reviews your application. You’ll never know if they were the deciding factor, but you wouldn’t want to be without them.

Final Thoughts

In summary, it matters less what extracurricular activity you choose than how you approach it. Like most things in life, the more you put into it, the more it’ll give back. You’ll make some friends, have fun, and hopefully do a little good in the process.

Let me leave you with some sage advice in the vein of homemaking guru Martha Stewart. “An extracurricular activity: it’s a good thing.”

 

 

How to Distinguish Yourself to Your Dream College

Okay, high school juniors, listen up: college admissions season begins in just a few short months. Now is the time to start thinking about how to stand out from the other applicants competing with you for a seat at your dream college.

“But,” you protest, “colleges haven’t even made up their minds about this year’s incoming freshman class. Why worry about next year?”

Well, your buddy (INSERT NAME HERE) just got back from a humanitarian trip to (INSERT COUNTY HERE) where (HE/SHE) helped build a (SCHOOL/HOSPITAL/HOUSE). And you know what, (HE/SHE) wants to go to (YOUR DREAM COLLEGE), too. What have you done lately to better humanity?

Fortunately, distinguishing yourself is a lot easier than flying halfway around the world to do a good deed. In this article, we’ll explore a few ways to make your best qualities and accomplishments shine.

First Things First

What are your best qualities and accomplishments? Get out some paper and brainstorm. Here are some possible categories to get you started:

  • Academics
  • Extracurricular
  • Volunteering
  • Other Community Involvement

Be sure to include ongoing and planned events, not just things you’ve completed in the past. For example, if you’ve signed up to take four APs your senior year, write that down. Colleges love students who excel in APs.

After making your list, I bet you feel a bit better about what you’ve accomplished in high school so far. Also, before we go any further, let me emphasize that despite my joke at the beginning of this article, stop comparing yourself to other applicants. After all, many of those so-called ‘humanitarian trips’ cost their volunteers thousands of dollars and might do more harm than good. Check out Habitat for Humanity if you want to build something for the needy.

Examining Your Strengths

So you have your list of best qualities and accomplishments. Here are some questions to consider at this stage:

  • What is my best strength and accomplishment?
  • How do I brag about myself without sounding arrogant?
  • How do I bring up these strengths in my essay?
    • How do I bring up these strengths if my dream college has a specific essay question?

The answer to the first question is completely up to you. Let me help with the others.

How do I brag about myself without sounding arrogant? How do I bring up these strengths in my essay? 

Arrogance is a deal breaker for college admissions counselors. Bragging or even ‘humble bragging’ can’t seem explicit. The solution to this problem is all about framing your accomplishment or strength within a larger story, or in other words, bury the lead.

For example, let’s say you organized a local blood drive. You wouldn’t want to start your essay with ‘I organized a local blood drive.’ You would begin by discussing an event, such as a natural disaster, that caused a blood shortage. You would then transition to feeling compelled to do something. Finally, you would discuss the steps you took to organize the blood drive and the positive results it had, such as a how many pints of blood were donated that day.

How do I bring up these strengths if my dream college has a specific essay question?

At first glance, an assigned essay question or prompt may not seem like a vehicle for your positive qualities to shine. However, just like any piece of personal writing, there are always ways to insert yourself into the story. Let’s look at two examples:

What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?

At face value, it doesn’t seem like you could talk up your accomplishments. But let’s say that you’re a history nerd, and you’re taking honors or AP U.S. history this year. Use this prompt as a way to bring up a paper/test/presentation/project/etc. where you excelled.

Are we alone?

Again, another ambiguous question that inspires thoughts of slimy extraterrestrials rather than your accomplishments. For the science geeks reading this question, this one is for you. Discuss your best biology/chemistry/physics class experiments and projects that lend towards your discussion of the possibility of life beyond Earth.

In summary, the key to answering these and other odd prompts is to gradually make the answer about you. You won’t be great at this right away; that’s why you need to have an adult, hopefully one of your teachers, critique your essay’s first draft.

Did You Overcome Adversity?

I know that adversity can be a private and sensitive subject. If you went through something traumatic or painful in the last few years, you might not want to discuss it with someone you’ve never met. However, explaining these life experiences in your essay puts your accomplishments (or lack thereof) in a whole new light. They complete a picture that college admissions counselors need to see before they make a final decision about your application.

Another reason that you might include adversity as part of your essay involves a single word: perseverance, a trait that all colleges and universities want to see in their applicants. So if you have that kind of story to tell, make sure that you tell it in your essay.

How myKlovr Can Help

If you need extra assistance listing and categorizing your accomplishments, consider downloading the myKlovr app. The app’s digital portfolio can help you keep track of this and other important information which will make the college admissions process less stressful.

Final Thoughts

In an applicant pool where just about everyone has good standardized test scores and a boatload of honors/AP courses, your college essays are THE WAY the distinguish yourself from the pack. And though you may not yet know your essay prompts, reviewing your accomplishments now will make your essays shine just a bit brighter than those of your competition.

So shine on, college applicants, shine on.

Alternatives to College: Five Possibilities for Personal Growth and Financial Stability

We’ve been conditioned to think that graduating seniors need to be college bound in order to have a financially secure and successful life. But what if your child wants to learn and grow, just not in college? There are many valid reasons not to attend college, and maybe your child has already presented you with a few. Maybe they just want some time away from the structure and stress of academia, or maybe they have no intention of going, ever. Should you despair and resign yourself to years of floating them money to help them cover their bills?

Maybe not. The below options are less conventional, and may provide students with bigger challenges than they’d face taking the oft-traveled route to college, but each is a viable option for a student who wants to work hard and have a productive, fulfilled life.

1. Get a full-time job. You might be tempted to say, “You’ll never get a good job if you don’t go to college,” in an attempt to sway your child towards college. And while college graduates do typically out earn high school graduates, there are professions which offer good pay with only a high school diploma needed. Some of these fields do require some kind of training, but new entrants can finish and begin earning money relatively quickly. Here’s a list of twenty jobs which require a high school diploma.

If your child elects to go directly into the workforce, it’s important to look at projected job growth for professions of interest. For example, the retail sector is under strain, and while the industry will not disappear, its growth will be flat.

2. Attend a trade school. These institutions offer a range of advantages over four-year colleges, and could provide the best compromise between college and going directly into the workforce. Trade school tuition is a fraction of four-year schools, which means your child will probably be able to finish without the typical load of student loan debt. The salary gap between a trade school graduate and a college graduate is relatively small as well. It’s not uncommon for trade schools to have strong connections with employers, allowing them to offer job placement assistance. Skills learned in trade school also can’t be easily outsourced or automated (not yet, anyway).

According to this article, which features data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are a wide range of fields which demand the skills of trade school graduates. Finally, because trade school programs are more intensive and practical, a student can finish more quickly and begin earning a salary.

3. Do volunteer work. Since most of us are not independently wealthy, this probably seems like an odd suggestion. But if it’s financially feasible, it may provide a range of unexpected benefits. Volunteers learn useful real-world skills and make connections with others.

It’s possible to participate in a program which is considered volunteer, but offers a living allowance. AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), founded in 1965, places volunteers with nonprofit organizations that work to end poverty and improve communities. Anyone over eighteen can apply for this full-time commitment, and those who successfully complete a year can earn an educational grant for higher education or an additional cash stipend.

Catholic Volunteer Network operates an extensive volunteer program, with both domestic and international placements. While most long-term programs require volunteers to be 21, some programs are open to those 18 and up. Catholic Volunteer Network provides basic room and board and a small stipend, and does not require volunteers to be Catholic, though the work is entirely faith-based.

4. Start a business. If this seems way too ambitious for a recent high school graduate, it’s not. Entrepreneurship is a viable option for anyone who’s ambitious and wants to make a mark on the business world as soon as possible, and they don’t have to found a multi-national conglomerate to do it. Thanks to technology, it’s possible to launch a business with only a little money. Etsy, eBay, and Shopify are just a few of the sites which have eased the process of starting an online business. Anyone can buy a web domain, install WordPress, and have a basic site up and running quickly, especially today’s tech-savvy teens. SCORE, a nonprofit with 300 local chapters, offers a wealth of free advice, templates, guides, and other resources to small business creators.

If you’re still (understandably) skeptical, reading these bios of successful young entrepreneurs might help you see what’s possible with hard work and ingenuity.

5. Enlist in the armed forces. Joining the military and serving our country is a noble decision. It provides an opportunity to do something important, while skills which can be used upon re-entry to the civilian world. Service to the nation is something we all take pride in, but there are additional advantages to military service. Food and housing allowances, medical care, salary, and vacation leave are the primary benefits. Members who elect to stay in for the long term can look forward to retirement benefits, including pensions.

Like the aforementioned volunteer organizations, the U.S. military also helps address how to pay for college by offering multiple options to support members in their academic pursuits. Overall, the U.S. military is a great place with potential for a long and distinguished career.

Finally

Every option facing a graduating senior has pros and cons. If you’re a parent, the idea of your child putting off or forgoing college altogether may cause a significant amount of stress. It takes a shift in thinking to realize that all students don’t need to go to college, but they all definitely need to have a plan.

College will always be available as an option, so if your child elects to forgo higher education in favor of something else worthy, they can reverse course easily should they change their mind. It’s even possible to find a college with flexible start dates, so that they don’t have to wait for September or January should their plans not go as hoped.

Young adulthood is a great life stage to test unconventional ideas, as many of them don’t have to fixate on paying a mortgage and raising a family, making it easy to try opening a different door to professional success if needed. College admissions officers appreciate a well-rounded student profile, and trying any of the above can create or enhance one.

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