With a new school year underway, many high school seniors are already looking ahead to what comes next – college and career choices.
“From August to November is what we call application season,” said Dr. Brett Morris, executive director for enrollment management at Eastern Kentucky University. “It’s almost like the Derby, as students have been anxiously researching colleges and begin applying to multiple schools when the application ‘gate’ opens the beginning of August.”
Applying for college is just one of many steps students will take to enter the hallowed halls of post-secondary academia. They will also need to apply for financial aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and for scholarships and campus housing. While seniors are busy with that process, in addition to enjoying their senior year, their parents may be thinking about something equally important – how to pay for it all.
“There has been a lot of news coverage recently about the rise in student debt, and that concerns us greatly,” Morris said, “so we are addressing debt by expanding our Merit Scholarship Program.”
Starting next fall, more high school seniors will be eligible for a scholarship based upon their high school academic performance. EKU’s merit program is based upon an equal weighting of a student’s performance on a standardized national exam such as the ACT or SAT, and a student’s unweighted high school GPA. Starting in Fall 2019, Kentucky students with at least an ACT composite score of 21 and a unweighted GPA of 3.0 will earn a merit award at EKU. The new model has eight award tiers starting at $2,000 and topping out at $16,000 for students scoring at the top of the calculated index. EKU has developed a scholarship estimator web tool where students can enter their GPA and test scores and see exactly which scholarship level they may qualify to receive.
Students receive the full amount of their award while residing on campus, or 25 percent less when they are eligible and choose to live off campus. “The scholarship program is purposely designed to encourage students to live on campus because national research shows students perform better academically when they are fully engaged in campus life,” Morris said. EKU requires all single, full-time, undergraduate students under the age of 21, who have fewer than 60 hours, or have completed less than four academic semesters, to live in a University residence hall. Students must apply for an exception if they choose to live at home with their parents provided that home is within 50 miles of Richmond. Students attending one of EKUs regional campuses are considered off-campus, and fully online freshmen are not eligible for these awards.
Other changes to improving college financial literacy are also in the works. EKU recently joined the RaiseMe platform. Initially sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, RaiseMe partners with colleges and universities to expand access to higher education, especially among low-income and first-generation students. Rather than make students wait until the end of high school to earn scholarships, which is often too late to impact a student's college ambitions or choices, RaiseMe enables students to earn scholarships throughout high school, starting as early as ninth grade, for doing all the things that best prepare them to succeed, whether that’s getting good grades, volunteering in the community or joining an extracurricular activity.
Through the RaiseMe program, students earn micro-scholarships for individual achievements in categories such as academics and community service. For example, a student can earn $180 for attending one of EKU’s upcoming Spotlight Days, a campus open-house program sponsored by Undergraduate Admissions.
“High school students who follow EKU on RaiseMe can begin earning small awards early in their high school years,” said Bryan Erslan, director of student financial aid at EKU. “This micro-scholarship will become an integrated part of their merit award when they become a senior.”
RaiseMe’s goal is to motivate, guide, and educate students about how the financial aid system works. The micro-scholarship program also helps motivate students to complete actions that will make them more competitive for college admission and better prepared for college success.
“We are very excited to have students discover EKU through the RaiseMe platform,” said EKU Admissions Director Stephanie Whaley. “It will help students better understand that what they do in high school really matters when it comes to gaining admission to the University or qualifying for scholarships. We look forward to engaging students early in their high school years about the benefit of an EKU education.”