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College Scholarship Success

By Kristi Arellano

You’ve heard it from your parents. You’ve heard it from your teachers. You’ve heard it from your counselors. Everybody keeps telling you that college is important, but it can also be expensive. They encourage you to apply for scholarships, which can help make college more affordable – even free in some cases.

But it can be a bit overwhelming to think about applying for scholarships. Where do you find them? How can you really stand out from all the other applicants?

While some scholarships take factors like financial need into account, other scholarships, often called “merit-based scholarships” judge you solely on your grades or extracurricular activities.

So how do you get those scholarships? Is it just the luck of the draw or are there steps you can take to make yourself stand out?

The Boettcher Foundation is a private foundation in Colorado. Every year they award 42 full-ride, merit-based scholarships to graduating high-school seniors. The scholarship is limited to graduating seniors who live in Colorado and want to attend college there, but the people who work at the Boettcher Foundation believe it is important for everyone to have access to the resources that will make them competitive for college and scholarship applications.

Based on the time they’ve spent reading thousands and thousands of scholarship applications, the people at the Boettcher Foundation have a pretty good idea of what makes students competitive and how they can improve their odds of getting into college AND earning a scholarship.

To start, they recommend checking with your high-school counselor, since they are actually paid to help you find out about scholarships you might qualify for. Beyond that, they recommend the following websites to begin your scholarship search:








Once you’ve figured out which scholarships you qualify for, how do you set yourself apart from other applicants?

The Boettcher Foundation says it typically comes down to a formula they call ACE, which stands for Academics, Community Service and Extracurricular Activities. Students who are well-rounded in each of these areas are more likely to stand out from the crowd.

Here’s the breakdown:


Obviously, academics are a critical part of college and scholarship selection processes. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

·         Keep a strong academic record. Grades aren’t everything, but they do matter.

·         Follow a college preparatory curriculum in high school – AP, IB and honors courses (if offered by your school) are a great way to prepare for your future goals. If your school does not offer these courses, take the most challenging courses available to you or seek opportunities to obtain credits through local colleges.

·         Take four years of the core subjects – English, science, math and social studies.

·         Select meaningful electives that reflect your interests and goals.

·         Take the ACT & SAT – Plan ahead, study, practice and take them more than once to improve your score.

Community Service

Involvement in your community plays a crucial role in selection processes since it shows that you have a sense of responsibility, commitment and interest outside of the classroom. When describing your community service activities, remember to include:

·         The depth of your participation – Explain your roles and responsibilities and describe their value and importance to the organization.

·         The length of your commitment – Be clear when describing the time commitment associated with the activity. Was it a one-time event, or has it become a regular part of your schedule? How frequently do you participate and for how long each time?

·         Leadership and initiative – Selection committees want to identify people who will be leaders on their campuses. Describe how you assumed leadership roles, initiated projects or led others through your volunteer efforts.

·         Be specific and detailed in your descriptions to ensure selection committees understand exactly what you did and how you contributed to the organization.

Extracurricular Activities

Describing your extracurricular activities allows you to tell the selection committees about all of the amazing things with which you have been involved. Other than academics and community service, extracurricular activities include nearly everything else you spend your time doing. You’ll want to:

·         Consider your involvement with the arts, athletics, school clubs and organizations, civic groups, work, internships, summer programs, hobbies and special interests.

·         Select activities based on your true interests, talents and passion, not just because you think they’ll look good on a resume.

·         Describe the depth of your participation – What did you do? How did you contribute? Give details and paint a picture of your value to the organization.

·         What was the length of your commitment? How much time did you spend each week with the activity? How many weeks per year were you involved?

·         What leadership or initiative did you exhibit? Be specific and detailed when describing your involvement on an application.

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