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For college success, end the school year strong




Can you believe that December is almost over?  It seems like each year passes like the express train on the Broad Street line. As this year rolls to a close, I thought it would be helpful to bring you some tips on how to help your college-bound child finish the year strong. No matter whether they are in 9th or 12th grade, I’ve included something for everybody.

You've probably realized by now that getting to college is just half the battle. Paying for a college education is another challenge. Follow these tips to increase your child’s chances of earning college admission and scholarships at the same time.

As the temperature drops and we long for more sunlight each day, it seems ideal for young people to spend their out-of-school time staying warm at home. But December is the perfect month to add some quality experiences to your child’s resume. Your child has a better chance at getting into more colleges and being selected for more scholarships if they have a student resume that proves that they are strong academically and are actively contributing to their community.

Five Tips to End the Year Strong 

1. Volunteer for community service

Everyone loves a giver. The holiday season presents many opportunities for high school students to give back to their communities by volunteering with organizations that help others. The added perk is that most city schools mandate community service hours as a graduation requirement. An added incentive is that there are scholarship opportunities for those who do community service.

To find volunteer service opportunities, you and your child should start close to home. Recreation and community centers, religious institutions, and even nursing homes and hospitals might have opportunities for your child to serve. The local SPCA can accept volunteers who are 18 or older, and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children has volunteer opportunities for students age 15 and older.

2. Support a cause

A lot of nonprofit organizations are only able to host volunteers who are 18 or older or will require that younger students are accompanied by adults. If this causes an issue for your child to be able to serve, consider having him or her support a local or national charity. Often, charity organizations will suggest projects or drives that students can facilitate and participate in off-site.

The Covenant House has a local site, but it is an international organization dedicated to helping children and teens who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness or trafficking. Your child can support the group by organizing a fundraiser or holding a drive to collect clothing, educational, or hygiene items. Learn more here.

3. Test prep

Many scholarships will consider a student’s standardized test scores as part of their application process. And there’s no time like the present to help your child boost their scores. Consider this – if your child is a high school senior and has scores that they are not happy with, studying for and retaking the exam could boost their score. With an improved score, you can ask college admission officers to reconsider a non-acceptance decision or see whether your child qualifies for different scholarship opportunities. If your child is not a high school senior, early preparation puts them at an advantage to score well the first time they take the test, putting them on a path to college admission success.

For students taking the ACT, there is a list of test prep resources available through their website. If your child is taking the SAT, check out the official practice site, through Khan Academy.

4. Search for scholarships

It’s never too early to start the scholarship search. No matter what grade your child is in, they need to get into the habit of looking for and applying for scholarships. With the average cost of tuition at $24,000 per year for Pennsylvania state schools, scholarships can make the difference in whether a student can attend. Every year, millions of dollars in scholarships go unfound and unused. Some of this money is right under our noses.

As parents, this is a task to put on your to-do list, as well. Start your scholarship search at places like your job, your family’s place of worship, and neighborhood and civic organizations in the city –  the Urban League of Philadelphia just opened its scholarship application for this year. For a broader search, sign-up for accounts with Sallie Mae and download the mobile app Scholly. These tools will send scholarship notifications to your child’s email.

5. Shadow a job

Unlike internships and part-time jobs that require set hours over extended periods of time, job shadowing can take place during winter break and be just as beneficial. Help your child find a person or a company that operates in a career field they are considering. Ask whether your child can shadow someone for a period of one day to one week. The goal is to expose your child to the type of work and activities they would be expected to do if they pursue a similar career path. Students should use this time to ask general questions about compensation, credentials, and advice for a young person starting out.

The Philadelphia Fire Department and the Phillies both have programs to help high school students get a behind-the-scenes look at different positions in their fields.

What are you going to do to end the year strong? Let us know which tip you’ll take or suggest a tip of your own.

Melissa A. Rowe, M.Ed., is the founder of Capture Greatness! – A Scholarship Writing & College Coaching Initiative. As a writer, education advocate, and college counselor, she teaches young people how to write effectively to fund their college educations. A Philadelphia native with over a decade of experience in education, Rowe has held positions in schools, colleges, and out-of-school time programs. Recently, she has been recognized by WHYY as an American Graduate Champion for her work with students from under-resourced schools. Through Capture Greatness, Rowe has helped local students earn more than $1,000,000 in scholarship money, including four Gates Millennium Scholarship recipients. Learn more about her work at





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