Home > Education > A Valedictorian’s Advice On How to Raise a Scholarship Kid

A Valedictorian’s Advice On How to Raise a Scholarship Kid

What is the dream of every parent? I would imagine that it would be something to the effect of making sure your children become honest, productive members of society. Aside from that, wouldn’t it be wonderful if your kid went to college with a scholarship? Not every child will or should attend college, but if you want yours to have the best possible opportunity to go to college on a scholarship, you have to start early. I am not one to brag about myself, but after reading Do You Flaunt It? on My Money Design, I thought, why not? I am not very musical, terribly creative, or athletically gifted, but I always did well in school. When I was a freshman in high school, I decided I would be valedictorian and get a scholarship for college, and that’s what I did.

My parents started grooming my sister and me for college since before we can remember. College was like 13th grade, and we never considered not going. Both Sis and I now hold doctorate degrees, and I thank my Mom and Dad for being tough on us. As a mother, I hope to do the same with my daughter. Here are some steps you might consider if you want your child to get to college and have a good shot at a scholarship.

  1. Talk About Education. Stress the value of education as soon as they can talk. Kids are like sponges. When they are little, they like what we like and do what we do. A few weeks ago, we were on our way to school one Monday morning, and I asked my five year old if she was excited to get back to school. Her totally unprompted reply, “Well, I’m a little tired, but I’m glad to go to school. If I don’t go to school, I won’t get to go to college.” I guess we talk about it more then I realized! She may hate me when she is a teen, but the seed will have already been planted.
  2. Set High Standards. I do not think that you should require your child to make straight A’s, but you should hold them accountable. As a parent you know what your child is capable of. My parents knew I could get top grades, and that is what they expected. If I hadn’t done the work they knew I was capable of doing, I would have lost privileges.
  3. Every Grade Counts. Passing grades don’t cut it if you want a scholarship. In my graduation class,  there were four people with a 4.0 GPA. They averaged all the actual number grades from each class throughout high school. I came out on top by one point. Every grade counts.
  4. Be Present and Involed. In elementary school, my mom always made sure I did my homework and quizzed me before tests. She also attended every parent teacher conference and knew who I was with and where I was.It drove me crazy when I was a teenager, but it kept me out of trouble.
  5. Be Well Rounded. Unless you have a perfect SAT, grades alone might not win you a scholarship. Universities like to see well rounded people who are leaders. Sports, clubs, charities, music, and church groups can provide a variety of experiences. Students who serve on student council or who lead in other ways will be better candidates for scholarships.
  6. Pay Attention to Appearance and Manners. If your child gets the opportunity to interview for scholarships, make sure they can properly converse with adults. While schools like individuality, they will expect that you show up looking appropriate, not like a gangster.
  7. Write well. I’m hoping technology won’t totally eliminate correct punctuation and grammar. If you write a college essay like OMG I really want 2 go 2 UR skul!, I don’t think that would win many points. Don’t be afraid to play devil’s advocate on a topic either. You don’t have to go in the most obvious direction as long as it is well written.
  8. Apply for Everything.I guarantee you won’t win any scholarship you don’t apply for. There are tons of small local awards. You might think $500 isn’t much, but if you could win two or three of those, that adds up.
  9. Apply to Lots of Schools. If your child wants to go to Harvard, have them apply. You never know. To get accepted to an Ivy League school, let alone get a scholarship,  you have to be tops, and even that doesn’t guarantee anything. I applied to several schools. My top choices were Vanderbilt or David Libscomb ( a private school). I had some small scholarships, but those two would have cost tons of money.  Good old Western Kentucky University hooked me up with an awesome package that included tuition, fees, room, and books. They also gave me a separate science scholarship that was enough to cover food. Free ride! I could not turn that down and became a Hilltopper. I am so happy I made that decision, as it allowed me to finish undergraduate university with no debt. I’ve never had anyone feel I wasn’t a good optometrist because I didn’t go to Vanderbilt. Unless you are going to be President or work for a fortune 500 company, I don’t think it matters where your degree comes from.

Would my parents have disowned me if I had gotten a B in high school or not gotten a scholarship? Absolutely not, but by setting high standards for me, I rose to the challenge. If my daughter becomes a career waitress, will I love her any less? No. (but I hope she doesn’t go to college first and decide on that career after) If you set the bar low, it’s easy to trip over, and there isn’t lots of room for growth. If you want your child to go to college on a scholarship, start early and reinforce often.

Do you think high expectations are good for children or am I deluding myself?

Would you choose a state school for free over a prestigious school for a price?

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

30 comments

  1. Congratulations on being a valedictorian and the free college ride, but I have mixed feelings about pushing the kids to go to college, specially in 2012. It’s hard to know what the job market will be like when your 5 yo graduates college. Many trades are in demand and could fit much better many of the college drop-outs who went to college because their parents insisted on it. I also find it crazy when I see my friends pushing their 3 yo to crush their kindergarten interviews so they can get into that primary, this high school and that college. It is a tough choice because there is so much competition so you don’t want to deprive your kid of the opportunity to go should he want to, and at the same time you’d like for him to be worry-free for as long as possible.

    • Some kids are not ready or meant for college and I would never push them toward that. I sucked at basketball, so if my parents had tried to make me play that, I would have been miserable. They pushed me in the direction they knew I was good at. From dealing with our rental property, I know there is a shortage of skilled professionals, like electricians. I think there are may great careers that don’t involve college. I just feel we should expect something and not assume they’ll turn out OK if they sit and play x-box all day.

  2. I did get a scholarship, but at private schools it can be a bit more competitive since they like to give everyone SOMETHING to help towards the monster tuition bill. My Dad was valedictorian in high school and college, and he pushed academics but not too hard. I think him NOT pushing it actually made my siblings and me better students.

    • My Mom never went to school and always felt like she depended on my Dad too much. I worked out for them, but I think she always knew if something happened to him, she would have had a hard time, so she really pushed my sister and me to find something that would support us independently of a husband. I think you have to know your child and find what is the best way to motivate them. I can’t tell you how many people I have met who say something like, “Well, my kid isn’t good at school”. I actually knew I lady who said that she didn’t have to worry about her daughter because of her looks. Really? Your kid is good at something. You just have to find it.

  3. If the state school is a good value, then yes I would choose it. These are all great things to keep in mind.

  4. Great post. I think having high standards are good to have for kids, as long as it’s within reason. I think how they’re communicated is a big key, which is why I love #4. If you’re involved and helping your child then it can be much more of a team effort where you’re helping your child out as opposed to the feeling like it’s lorded over them.

  5. This is awesome. Great tips! Our kids are so little. I really hoping that I am doing the right thing with them! Good post. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Awesome! Thanks for the mention, Kim. I’m very honored to have inspired.

    You and I have something in common. Although I was not the valedictorian, I did have an above 4.0 GPA in high school and the only thing holding me back from college was money (go figure on how I became a PF blogger).

    These are all great tips. We personally spend a ton of time with our kids making sure they know their spelling words, study for their tests, and read at least 15 minutes per day. Beyond that, we also want them to have a lot of confidence because we feel that will enable them with the courage to tackle bigger things that might otherwise be afraid to do.

    And of course, we’re saving money to make sure they can afford college!

  7. Being able to write well is huge. I remember taking my GMAT to get into graduate school for my MBA. A big part of the test is the writing piece. Even if you can answer all the questions, you still need to “write” in order to do well. I think of my current job and pretty much all I do is write… emails that is – but its still very important skill.

    • We sometimes have teens who come in for eye exams and they don’t know how to correctly write their address. I’m all for technology, but writing is a skill that needs to be preserved.

  8. Great, great post! While we don’t have kids yet, I do think we’ll be much more strict than many parents I see today. While having high expectations will be something we have, it’s also equally important to make sure you’re there with them and guide them at an early age. Consistently helping with homework and ingraining, early on, that school is extremely important is something you have to do (in my imagination) to develop a successful, intelligent youngster.

  9. I don’t disagree with you in theory, but sometimes practice comes out a bit differently.
    My dad was downright abusive in the way he treated my grades, and I got lots of scholarships. And then when I went to college, my professors quickly figured out that they could groom me into the “perfect student” and I went along with it for waaay too long. Their dreams weren’t my dreams, and it turned out I had to figure out how to say “no, this isn’t what I want.” (That statement took therapy to get to.) I even had a professor apologize to me years later for being a part of treating me like a “trick pony”.

    I’ve achieved a lot of success because of the scholarships and the work ethic that was (almost literally) drilled into me growing up – but it also destroyed relationships that as an adult I now consider beyond repair.

    • I hoped I’d get some differing opinions. It is easy to put our dreams onto our kids, and I think it’s a fine line between pushing and driving away. My Mom and I differ in tons of other areas, including religion, but the education thing seems to have worked out for us. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  10. Your post is kind of scary to me as a B-student! My parents have always been my biggest cheerleaders – I held myself to higher standards than they had for me and they basically thought I was awesome at everything I did. My husband’s parents pressured him to get the top grades and be well-rounded and all of that. He was the valedictorian of his high school and in the top 10% of our college graduating class (I was barely above the median). Yet I got more scholarship money than he did for college (women in science – it pays!) and we both are now pursuing PhDs at a top institution in our fields. So what’s the end game, really? I’ve never been the type to strive for perfect grades and I’m glad my parents didn’t push that on me. I just attended the best institutions available to me, took the hardest classes of interest to me, and relied on my standardized test scores to show my aptitude better than my grades did.

    • It sounds like your parents were supportive and involved. I see so many that are very uninvolved and don’t participate in life really. Go to work, turn on the TV, let the kids play video games all night and don’t really think about tomorrow other than getting to the next payday, and then wonder why their kid dropped out of high school. Our town only graduates 60% of the kids that start high school there, and that really scares me. I think you can certainly come out on top in tons of different ways. I have a neighbor that is probably worth millions from being a plumbing contractor. Never did much in school, but obviously very driven and successful. That would be the end game I’d hope for. Appreciate you sharing your perspective.

  11. Our daughter got a 4 year partial scholarship and is now in graduate school. WE are thrilled!!!

  12. Wow! that’s fabulous, Kim! My younger daughter is valedictorian. She is one of the 50 students to earn Presidential scholarship at NYU. She wants to be a lawyer. Your parents should be proud of your accomplishments. Well done!

  13. I would just add that there is nothing wrong with a little tough love every once in a while. Personally, I wish my parents would have been stricter with my homework and grades – I know that I could have done much better than I did.

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