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15 Ways to Position Your Child for College Scholarships

  • Debra Bell Columnist, author and conference speaker
  • Published Feb 01, 2002
15 Ways to Position Your Child for College Scholarships

Part 1


Given the cost of a college education today, it is never too early to make use of these tips that weigh merit scholarship funds in your child’s favor:


1.      High SAT/ACT scores still open that door most readily. 


In many quarters, colleges are reducing the value they place on board scores, but for the home- school graduate, they are still considered an important, objective indicator of future success. (And that’s what merit scholarships are for – to attract students who are likely to go on to bring honor and recognition to their alma mater through career achievement and/or community service.)  The best way to maximize scores on these important tests is to build the skills tested into your program early (during the elementary and junior high years).


 What are these skills?  1. Reasoning skills;  2. Reading comprehension skills;  3. Vocabulary skills;  4. Writing skills;  and 5. Math skills (using geometry and algebra).   


We found academic competitions such as Math Olympiad and Math Counts excellent vehicles for practicing the problem solving skills measured by the SATs and other such tests. You can find out about these elementary and junior high competitions at  and . 


Allowing LOTS of time in your program for independent reading can best facilitate reading and vocabulary skills.  There are many vocabulary programs on the market that will work well, as long as they are done in conjunction with (not in lieu of) lots of time for reading.   Guide your children towards the better literature as well.  One mom I know allowed her kids to choose their independent reading material but required at least one Newbery award winner, one biography, one historical fiction, and one non-fiction book a month. This was a good way to direct her kids in the right direction while still allowing room for personal preference.


The writing skills measured center around grammar and usage.  The best way to facilitate this is to write a lot and read a lot.  Kids who do this  may not be able to correctly name the parts of speech, but they develop an ear for language that will help them quickly recognize when a sentence has been incorrectly worded.  High school students can easily prep for the writing portions of college entrance exams by using the Barron’s Guide to the SAT II Writing Test. This text will prepare kids for any of the writing portions.


One final comment: While the SAT is a reasoning test, the ACT is an achievement test measuring actual mastery in content areas.  It is common for a student to be more successful on one or the other. So, it can be to your child’s advantage to take both tests.  I have worked with more than one student who did not have the scores necessary to qualify for merit scholarships on the SAT, but then hit the necessary mark on the ACT.


2.      Select challenging courses in high school. Advanced Placement and college level courses carry the most weight.


First a definition: Advance Placement tests, developed by the College Board, are given every May in numerous college subject areas, from Spanish to calculus to music theory to English literature.  Each test costs approximately $70 and must be administered at a specific time and day by an approved AP proctor.  Scores on an AP exam of 3, 4, or 5 are considered passing grades and can result in college credit and/or exemption for that college course.  The catch is every university determines what they will accept as a passing grade (more selective universities require a 4 or 5 and do not accept all tests) and how many credits they will award (most tests are worth 3 credits, though some are worth as many as 6-8 credits).   Even if colleges do not accept Advance Placement credits, they still are weighted heavily in scholarship selections.  In my opinion, Advance Placement testing is the cheapest way to earn college credit during high school and these tests carry the most prestige with scholarship committees.  (CLEP tests, also developed by the College Board, exempt students from college courses, as well. These are less expensive to sit for and are offered in a greater number of subject areas, but they are not considered as rigorous as the AP.  It is often better to use the CLEP-testing option to save time and money while in college.)  You can find out more about Advanced Placement tests and other credit-by-exam options at


Each scholarship committee is different, and some weigh student achievement in actual college courses during high school over Advanced Placement courses. Others, vice versa.  It’s worth your while to have a mix of both on the high school transcript.  In many areas of the country, high school students can sign up for college courses at reduced fees; in some places the courses are even free. 


In our area, once one college began offering reduced fee courses, others followed suit. And now home-schoolers can choose from a variety of options.   While community college courses are often less expensive, it is better to take courses offered by the most prestigious college in your area (if affordable) if your purpose is to nail a merit scholarship down the line.   Bottom-line—take courses where your child is likely to do well.   I also recommend that students take only one course at first. Once you find your child is ready to handle the workload, then increase the number of classes accordingly.


Final caution in this area: Be careful not to over-challenge your child with these types of classes in high school or to tackle college-level work prematurely.  Not all kids are going to be able to handle rigorous course work early.  Success in little is better than failure in a lot. Start slowly; build towards a senior year of predominantly college-level work.  If your child can have one high score on an AP test and one “A” in a college course by the end of his junior year, then show a rigorous schedule (even without final grades) for his senior year, that will be enough evidence for the scholarship committee.



Next time: more tips.


In His Sovereign Grace,





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