High School - What Things Make You More Attractive for Colleges and Scholarships

Updated on August 08, 2011
S.T. asks from Castle Rock, CO
25 answers

Glanced over some prior answers. I have a son heading into High School next month. What are the most important things he can do to increase the likelihood of getting into to colleges and for scholarships? Volunteering seems like a no-brainer. He did some sports in Jr High, but now does not want to do them. He is not the type that would do student govt or clubs. From what I've read, colleges want a more well rounded kid - not just a kid with an above average GPA. Although I've mentioned these things, I think wisdom coming from others who have been there and done that will mean more to him.

Please advise as I will have 3 kids in college at the same time and really need to make some scholarships happen. My other 2 will likely do sports and orchestra, so I'm less concerned about them.

I've heard it can be a great ideal to take the SAT prep classes and have them take the test multiple times. The test scores can make a big difference on scholarship opportunities. True? If so, what classes do you recommend?

Also, what should I be researching or doing over these next 2 years for both scholarships and finding a good college too? Seems like it could be a full time job!


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answers from Austin on

grades are good but he should become active in SOMETHING. that should be a rule... no questions asked. here by me, students in HS cannot graduate unless they've sustained at least 2 activities per semester. whether its a sport, instrument, club or volunteer service.

imo, if you have all of those... you're golden.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Salt Lake City on

Any sort of community or club involvement. I don't remember the names of all the clubs, but I'm thinking mensa, fbla, national honor society, etc. Once he gets into high school, he will see all the different things available. The ones that require some community involvement and tie into academics as well look really good.

Just a note, I was very active in music in high school, but at my college Music scholarships were in two categories: music majors and marching band, so unless they are interested in either one of those, don't count on a music scholarship.



answers from Provo on

I guess I was lucky, graduated with a 3.95 on the honor society, did just above average on SAT,ACT got a full tuition scholarship no problem. However i played a little bit too much first year of college dropped my GPA to 3.599 and lost the scholarship.....but there are tons of scholarships out there, you just have to be willing to search

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answers from Boston on

I work PT for an test prep company as a classroom instructor and private tutor. My biggest regret with my own college application process was that I didn't take a test prep class. I was already a good standardized test taker and knew my scores would get me into the schools of my choice. I didn't realize that another 100-200 points on my tests would have put me into a higher scholarship tier and would have saved me literally tens of thousands of dollars in loan payments. So yes, I would recommend test prep (I work for Revolution Prep, btw). As a general rule, GPA accounts for about half of a student's admissions package. The other half is a mix of standardized test scores (SAT/ACT and SAT II if required) and "everything else" - letters of recommendation, the essay, extra-curriculars, etc.

Well-rounded students are a dime a dozen. I work with a ridiculous number of kids who have the whole package - excellent grades in tough courses, elite test scores, varsity sports (usually a captain) or performance art, volunteer work, student council or government, etc. And they're usually wealthy and attractive too! So the generic well-rounded students are out there, and there are a ton of them to compete with.

So what helps? Being a boy is actually to his advantage because female applicants outnumber male applicants and some colleges are struggling to keep gender balance on their campuses. Good grades are a must. There are enough students out there with 4.0 averages and they'll get the substantial scholarships. Cumulative GPA is very important - it's not enough to screw off in 9th or 10th grade and then decide to get his act together in 11th and 12th grade because there are other kids who've been putting in the work for 4 years. I work with a lot of kids who are kicking themselves for blowing off mid-years or finals in earlier grades and have those haunt their cumulative GPA.

As others have mentioned, he has to find something that he's passionate about. One of my favorite students had severe learning disabilities and was a terrible test taker. Her SAT scores were below average, but she had OK grades due to putting in a TON of work. More importantly, she was passionate about Type I diabetes, which she has. She logged many hours working with the JDRF during school, worked at a JDRF camp during the summer, did a lot of social justice work at school, was a team manager for one of her school's teams (she was not an athlete) and sang in her school's chorus. She got glowing letters of recommendation and interviewed with poise, passion and charm. She not only got into a school that is an amazing fit for her, she got accepted with a $20K per year social justice scholarship that will allow her to travel and participate in social justice projects in the US and possibly abroad. So students who are average/below average academically CAN be very desirable to a college if they demonstrate hard work, passion and vision.

All that said, he has to enjoy high school. Sometimes the path from high school to college to career isn't a straight one. Sometimes a kid doesn't take things seriously enough along the way, or zigs where he should have zagged. It's not the end of the world. So while it's good to have the big picture in mind, as long as he is working to his potential grade-wise, his first few months of school should be about mastering the transition to high school, managing his schedule, making friends, etc. It doesn't have to be 100% College Quest all the time, kwim? There will be lots of chances for him to find what's offered at school and see what interests him. One of my boys isn't really a joiner and needs an engraved invitation and 2x4 upside the head before he notices opportunities around him, so maybe if he doesn't get with the program immediately you can give him a requirement that he has to pick an activity by a certain date.

Good luck!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

There are 4 essentials: 1) Volunteer work. Demonstrating dedication, and willingness to help others. Have him pick one charity and volunteer regularly for it. 2) Sports. Even if he doesn't "letter" or excel, pick one and show commitment and interest it. Team sports show ability to work with others and also an interest in personal health. 3) Grades. All A's don't really seem to be all that necessary anymore, but nothing short of a B. Also, have him take a few more challenging, stand-out classes, to differentiate himself. 4) Leadership. Whether the President of the chess club, or student body, he needs to show an ability to lead others. Can even be for a sports team, but will demonstrate organizational skills, mentoring and more.

Scholarships change all the time, so it might be a waste of your time to start researching them now. Also, work with your school's guidance counselor. They should have all the info you need.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

There are a few books at the library dealing with this subject. THey are all 4 inches thick but very informative.
I had about 6 of them in the house last month.
What I gleaned from most of them is that colleges are looking for well rounded with a bump, or passion.
So good grades, yes, but not neccessarily straight A's. Colleges would rather see some B's and C's in AP classes than straight A's in regular classes. That came straight from the U of Chicago's admission's mouth.

High SAT, yes

4 years on one team, say swimming
PADI dive certified
lifeguard---these last three show a passion for swimming
Or say 3 years on the soccer team, and then help coach or ref the parks and rec soccer team--passion for soccer

Volunteer time--this could also tie in with your passion, be the summer swim league's asst coach

Between junior and senior year make it count, do something momentous, like take a college course in something you are thinking of pursuing, There is a Criminal Justice course for 3 credit hours at Marymount UNiv, it is geared towards rising high school seniors.

Look into some summer oppurtunities--Robotics courses, What is he passionate about? Science camps, Great Books Summer camps, a college course at the comm college, Spanish 1, for instance

Host a foreign exchange student

Find a volunteer opportunity, say the Humane society, start now cleaning crates then work/volunteer for all 4 years. Work up to being the one in charge of the HUmane Society days at Petsmart or Petco.

Does the English Dept or Hist dept have a culminating project for seniors? OUrs does all 4 years, make these count. A child in our community set up a nonprofit organization for wells in Kenya, he had a 5K run and raised a lot of money.

Have him take the PSAT/NMSQT if the high school offers it to underclassmen other than juniors. It is a good indicator how you will do on teh SAT and he will get practice.

We bought the KAPLAN's SAT PREP for online with tests. It was very helpful, it pinpoints where he'll need to work more.

Talk to guidance, they should have soem idea where to go for scholarships.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

I think my daughter's essay really helped her she got a 1/2 scholarship to NYU with few extracurriculars

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dover on

Colleges like to see well-rounded students...a B student with varied experiences (sports, student council, volunteering, scouts, yearbook staff, etc) look better than a straight 8 student with nothing else.

My son, although lazy student, had a lot of these things and ok SAT scores. He applied to his top choice and was accepted early.

If student government and sports are out then get him into something that provides volunteer opportunities (church, hospital, boys and girls club, Habitat For Humanity), yearbook staff, school newspaper. etc.

Additionally, I would suggest that you get him involved with researching scholarships...on-line, local options such as the state and civic organizations.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I have a 16 yr old daughter who will be a Jr next year. We have started the rounds of visiting colleges, touring campus's and towns.

You've heard some good things. They are looking for a well rounded kid. You can have a perfect score on all SAT's, ACT's, etc and not have any life experience.

Volunteering is good, my daughter plays violin and is a cheerleader. One her her cheer friends is going to Hawaii on scholarship, 3 others are heading to Oklahoma schools.

Check out college websites that your children may be interested in and look through the admissions, testing, touring, etc. I will say that it can get to the point of information overload out there so take it slowly.

We've visited Penn State -- her dad's undergrad school and where he was a Varsity S athlete....(She loves it but too cold, especially being a Texan all her life) She still might end up here.

Duke -- dad's MBA from here. LOVES this school She got nervous when admissions said... we had 23,000 freshman applicants last year and we took 1700. She said to us at that point... I have my work cut out for me if I want to pursure this.. she does and she intends to declare early.

Wake Forest - not interested
UNC - not interested
SMU - good school, she wants to go out of state

Colleges accept the highest percentage of the early applicants who are willing to declare early because it means that student is focused on that school and knows what they want.

Good luck... it is a busy busy road but we are enjoying it as we go along!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

the more he participates in organized activities, the better the chances are for scholarships.

Positions of leadership help even more!

My older son totally blew off H.S. .....& is now paying the price (literally!).

My younger son is currently involved in religion school, Scouts, TOP Club (teen outreach program), Band, Track, & other school clubs. He has applied for membership in Student Council.....but in our small town, you have to be a "name" to get in.....so the odds are slim. But....I am hopeful that he will continue some of these other activities to increase his odds of scholarships/grants. I wish your son would consider joining something!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Cheyenne on

Well roundedness isn't only about clubs in school. If your son isn't a "joiner", he can show his personality with volunteer work, being active in church, having an after-school job, etc. Think outside the box. He doesn't need to be a cookie cutter kid.
For scholarships, apply for EVERYTHING. A good relationship with the guidance counselor or his/her secretary can be really helpful because they know when the scholarships are due and can inform you as new ones come in. There was a drawer in my counselor's office that had all the scholarships and the their applications. I went through and pulled out one for every scholarship I qualified for and the counselor's secretary reminded me if there was an application due that I hadn't turned my app in for yet. So make friends with them!


answers from Washington DC on

You need to start early -- good grades your Junior year with crappy grades the 2 years before will get you nowhere.
My son is a college freshman this coming fall. He had excellent grades. He volunteered with different organizations including a camp for the mentally disabled. You need something different to catch their eye. He is a talented musician. He had lots of leadership - woodwind captain, etc. He had a sport. They want to see that you can manage your time and still get the grades.
ACT is an "easier" test than the SAT. The ACT wants to know what you know while the SAT tries to trick you. Don't send the colleges the scores until you see them first. Then send only the best scores. You can take the tests pretty much as many times as you'd like. There are books and prep classes -- they do seem to help a little bit.
Also - make sure you take 4 years of Math, 4 years of Science, and the requisite core classes. If you are good at a certain subject and you think you'd like to major in that, take a few extra classes. Colleges also want to see your last grades your senior year - do NOT slack off. They can and often will pull the acceptance if you fluff it off.
Scholarships -- ROTC (which my son got) are few and far between. You need to be an exceptional student, extremely organized, and on top of the whole paperwork situation. There is a ton of paperwork that goes along with those scholarships. You need excellent leadership and good interview skills. (Don't forget the firm handshake!) Most other scholarships are very specific. My son was told to apply for a few, but he didn't qualify for one reason or another... He did get a few, and every dollar adds up.
Good Luck!



answers from Denver on

I haven't had time to go through all of the other answers but yes, ACT, SAT, and honors/AP classes are important. If he is academically oriented then these things will fall in line. Just don't let him take the path of least resistence. As a high school teacher, I believe that the freshmen year is a pivotal year in kids success. Keep after him academically.

However, academics along are not a complete package. As you mentioned, volunteering is huge, as is a steady job, but I hate to see kids tied to a job. They have thier whole life to work, I hate to see them start this early unless money is a motivator or key to the family survival. I would recommend managing for a sports team. I coach as well, and coaches need dedicated, responsible kids to make the program successful. Kids can letter as managers and are a key ingredient in most cases. It looks great on the transcript and gives teachers something to write about when it comes time for recommendation letters. It also gives kids a "fit" when they struggle for "new social positioning" when entering high school. According to educational gurus, bonding with an adult at the school hugely helps in academic success, and managing teams provides that as well.

Hope this helps-



answers from Denver on

We had my nephew here for high school years and have 4 of our own coming down the pike and here is what I know so far:

- GPA is important. For scholarships 3.8 or above is best but excelling in certain areas will allow for lower GPA

- Your child must push for more classes and harder. If he gets a great GPA but never pushes past the basic required classes to graduate then the colleges will take that into account.

- SAT and ACT - The school my nephew went to offered early testing and classes so I am not sure where to go outside of that. I do know that giving them a couple opportunities can't hurt. My nephew did better on the first test at the end of his junior year then he did on the second test as a senior.

- Anything extracurricular at school is SO important. He may not be into clubs but maybe he would be willing to help one of the teams, or he may be surprised, there are SO many clubs in high school, there may be one he likes. He may even like the debate club and only be a volunteer helper, he doesn't even have to debate, or help the art club get their art out in the community.

- I have heard several times that the high school you go to makes a difference too. Something about the larger schools get looked at first and all the little schools and private tend to get passed over easier. I have no idea if this is true, just heard it through the grapevine.

- And of course the volunteering.

Last but not least, you may want to look into grants for college too, sometimes the college you choose may be able to direct you towards government grants. I understand they are difficult to get but well worth the effort if a scholarship does not pan out.

Hope this helps, and good luck!



answers from New York on

What a great question! I have 2 in high school right now. This is what I've learned, which isnt' much.

From attending college night.... Colleges look at the following, grades, class - taking honors, AP, or ECE classes, SAT scores, actviites in and out of school, leadership roles.

Scholarships are all over the place. Some are based on financial need, some on volunteering, some on how well you can write an essay. My daughter's friend received a $1,000 scholarship that he didn't even apply for, it's given annually to a student who excels in music and is looking to pursue a career in that field.

I would highly recommend he finds something to get involved with at school. If he likes sports, but no longer wants to play, maybe he can be a manager/score keeper. Maybe acting isn't his thing, but he can help built the set for the play.


answers from Spokane on

Any extra curricular activities that your children are involved in will look good for scholarships either school activities outside academics or clubs or outside of school activities like as you said volunteering.



answers from Seattle on

Regarding SAT prep classes:

Take the first SAT date you can get. Take it as a practice test. Be totally non-stressed about it. It's a practice test. It doesn't matter.

When you get the scores back, take a look at them. If you like the results, terrific. Keep 'em. One less stress on your mind. If you don't like the results, you know where you need to study. *Then* you might want to take a test-prep course.

Regarding finances:

Apply for any and all scholarships you might qualify for. Many scholarships have un-advertised second or third prizes that can add up. Don't neglect the little $500 scholarships. Your competition will be lower for those. Also, don't neglect the really annoying huge long application scholarships. Same story.

I spent my entire senior year applying for scholarships. (This was pre-internet.) I sent out 100 letters of inquiry, got responses for 50, applied for 35, and ended up getting at least some money for 11 scholarships. I graduated without any debt. Yes, that was many years ago, but I don't think the general idea has changed that much.

Look everywhere, ask everyone. Many businesses have small scholarships for relatives of employees. Sometimes they have scholarships for anyone, they just don't advertise it outside their employees. Most fraternal organizations (Elks, Lions, Rotary) have scholarships, and you usually don't have to be a member to apply. Many ethnic groups (Swedish, Italian, etc) have clubs and those clubs have scholarships. Sometimes you don't even have to be a member of that ethnic group to apply. There are scholarships for children of certain experiences or trades (migrant workers, dancers, plumbers). There are scholarships for certain sports, scholarships for certain majors, scholarships for certain skills, scholarships for terrific grades, scholarships for terrible grades, scholarships for having been in foster care. Just about any category you can think of, someone somewhere had set up a scholarship fund.

One commonality: they all want to know you will spend their money well. So anything you can do to demonstrate hard work and persistence will be in your favor.

One final point. College is not the guaranteed route to a higher income that it once was. Don't drive yourself deep in debt to finance college, unless it's for a field that requires a degree, such as law and medicine. There are a lot of people out there working minimum wage to pay off $50,000 college debts. Try to avoid becoming one of them.

Good luck!



answers from New York on

The SAT scores aren't so much for scholarships, they are to get you into college. College application and acceptance is extremely competitive. The most important thing your kid can do is get good grades throughout high school. Not good grades actually, excellent grades. My daughter leaves for college in 2 years. She is extremely active with 4H, does science club in school, enters art competitions and will be the co-president of a school club for her junior and senior years. She doesn't do sports although she might do ski team this year. I wouldn't count on sports scholarships. If you send your kid to college on one, be prepared at some point to pay his full tuition, if he is injured and cannot play, scholarship bye bye! Good luck, and talk to the guidance office at the high school, their job is to guide parents and students through the college application and selection process. Colleges may give some scholarships but you want to be looking for scholarships from outside sources as well.



answers from Provo on

My daughter had a great GPA but she also did a lot of volunteering with the honor society. She also played in the orchestra. She took a SAT prep class but only did average on the test. She ended up with a scholarship to an out of state college. I have been told that this is very hard to do. Once he is assigned a counselor in high school they should be able to help you bunches.


answers from Los Angeles on

A few years ago I served on a school board with a teacher who also was on the admissions board for Stanford. She said that with all the kids applying with 4.0+ GPA's they had more than enough applicants to fill their openings and that extra-curricular activities were what they looked for, all the way down to junior high/middle school.



answers from Grand Junction on

I'm a non-traditional full-time student, mother, and employee(I basically don't sleep from late august to early may! lol). I've been fortunate in that i have yet to pay out of pocket for tuition. so....
a. if at all possible, have your son go to school in-state, which tuition for is just a fraction of out of state....
b. if he can go to a community college for a couple of years, he could knock out a lot of general education requirements.
c. most schools offer scholarships, a huge variety of them, based on things like grades, gpa, credit hours/semester, subject etc. look at the schools financial aid website for the scholarship info.
d. if your in colorado, sign up the COF - colorado opportunity fund, you should be able to find it online and you only have to sign up once to recieve assistance for each semester of school.
e. fill out fafsa, most deadlines for any school year are april 1 previous to the year you plan to begin. this is awesome because it also calculates if you can get more help througha pell grant, and will give you whichever offers the most help.

and tell your boy that really, he's going to have to get involved in something to be eligible for some scholarships. volunteering, yes. tutoring. implementing or taking part in non-athletic afterschool activities. it doesn't have to be sports. nursing homes always love volunteers. community service is good. so many things, and schools really look at that, not just grades.
i'm kinda in your boat as far as looking at schools goes, i hope to get my degree in two years and have already begun looking at graduate schools. researching the town, cost of tuition, jobs for my husband and myself, thinking about the school system my kids will be in, cost of living there etc. its overwhelming, but just start with one school at a time. or rather, have your son look into where he'd like to go and get the info, u might even think of taking a road trip to check out the area. most schools have preview days, admissions would be able to tell you when those are
whew! hope this helps



answers from Chicago on

Good grades are a must. I disagree with the mom who says get c's and b's in ap classes instead of straight A's in others. your gpa is important and while the gpa is weighted with ap classes it brings it down if you don't get good grades. It also tosses you back into regular classes the next year and messes with with your transcripts. I have had 3 kids in college for the past 3 years. Had one graduate in may from carthage college with a degree in actuarial math. another one graduates from nursing school next week and the other will be a senior at northern this fall. the college applications are looking for grades, act scores, sat scores, volunteer stuff, clubs, activities, volunteer stuff. all of those things are possible scholarship opportunities. here are some places to watch for scholarships that our kids got them
first and formost check out the highschool website regularly
church and church groups (Knights of columbus and ladies aux)
unions (my husband is local 701 IBEW)
local womens groups,
police dept
free masons
also look online in your search bar and put things like
"scholarship for tall boys"
"scholarship for mathmatics" or whatever he/she is into there are scholarships for everything these days.
my oldest son graduated from carthage college in may. tuition / dorm / food tops out at about $39000 per year. he had scholarships totaling $22000 of it every year and more his senior year. most of it directly connected to the music program. get your son into a choir or music of some sort there is buku music money out there lol good luck



answers from San Diego on

Sounds like your son knows what he does and does not like. Not interested in sports, not interested in student government - what stands out to me that your son can stand out in a unique way.

I've talked with plenty of college recruiters and you know what they want? A kid who able to think, who does NOT follow the mold, and is able to offer the school their own unique perspective.

Do you know how many parents (not kids) who have read the same "how to get into college books?" They're a wonderful money maker, and not what recruiters are looking for.

Your child sounds different. Go with that!!!



answers from Great Falls on

There are lots of great answers here. I didnt read them all so might be repeating--sorry. Yes, your son should take the PSAT early (as a sophomore) if possible so he can re-take it as a Junior. Scores go up with the experience. Take the SAT and the ACT in the spring of Jr year so can re-take in the fall if needed to improve scores. Go to the College Board online and sign up for a practice question a day via email. Many private schools will give you an automatic scholarship based on the combination of your GPA and your test scores (either SAT or ACT so take both since they score differently.)

Beyond that, yes, well-rounded, is needed for admission. Volunteering is required. My daughter will be a freshman this fall and she had a very well-rounded portfolio. However, my boys following her don't want anything to to do with volunteering. They'r going to have trouble. Get this going.

Also, a job can help. If your son can stick with one job and advance to some leadership aspects (crew leader at a fast food for example), or be re-hired by the same company every summer, that can help show commitment as well.

It's easy to be overwhelmed. Try to pick out at least where in the country he wants to go or rule out that he nevers wants to go to a big city, and you can automatically throw out all the mail that doesn't fit. Don't worry, they'll continue sending it so if he changes his mind, you can then start saving those brochures and throw out the others that don't fit the new criteria.

Good luck!!



answers from Portland on

In my own personal experience...I found it a good path to start with community college first. After just my first couple of terms I made it into the national honor society because of good grades. After that, I had many top-rated colleges contacting me and offering me transfer options/scholarships. I had my pick of universities, including Ivy League schools.

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