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5 Things Your Kid Can Do Now To Go To College For Free

Yes, your children CAN dribble their way to a scholarship.

So your child is beginning to think about college. And you’re beginning to think about tuition costs that are rising faster than you can say Bed Bath & Beyond. Maybe you wonder if your kids can drum, fence or dribble their way to a scholarship. The answer is … yes and no. “You can find individual scholarships and get $500 here and there,” says Joseph Runge, college counselor at Connecticut’s King School. “But applying for those is like finding a needle in a haystack; 95 percent of scholarships come from colleges and are based on student merit.”

Extracurriculars do help students get in. “Colleges are looking for people who are different and doing interesting things,” says Sandra Moore of Next Step College Counseling in Hyde Park, N.Y. But athletic scholarships are scarce, and other activities may be even tougher to translate into tuition money.

Still, an applicant who stands out can get an edge on both admissions and scholarships. Here are five things that could do the trick:

  1. Row if you’re a girl. One New York volleyball player got into a Division 1 sports school — by joining women’s crew. High school rowing teams are relatively rare, but there are large rosters to fill at D1 schools. “No kid should take up a sport they dislike, but the new challenge, good fit, and opportunity to excel and enhance her college prospects inspired her to try it,” says her dad, Robert Pondiscio. However, Rutgers coach Max Borghard warns, “even with the large opportunities that women’s rowing provides, scholarships are limited.”
  1. Dance if you’re a boy. It’s well known that dance companies, from modern to ballet, are struggling to find male dancers, and so are performing arts colleges. So if your son has an affinity for dance, help him hone his skills. According to CollegeScholarships.org, dance scholarships “are almost always determined on the basis of academic achievement and dancing ability.”
  1. Pick an instrument carefully. One dad of a sax and bassoon player asked art college coach Linda Pollack which his son should focus on. Bassoonists are rarer — do they get more scholarship money? Sometimes — but only when that’s the instrument their orchestra desperately needs that year. “It behooves parents to do their own research to find out the particular dynamics for each school,” she says.
  1. Do community service. “This is a big component of scholarships given out today,” says Janet Krieger, counselor at Onteora Middle/High School in Boiceville, N.Y. One Onteora student started a fundraiser for an orphanage in Laos and won a scholarship for Women Leaders/Community Service. However, Krieger notes, “Students can’t just pop into one meeting, but need to take a leadership role.” 
  1. Submit a supplemental portfolio. A student of Pollack’s applied to colleges as a business major, but submitted a photography portfolio to schools that accepted supplemental material. She won a photography scholarship from Southern Methodist University. “If a kid has a passion they’ve been pursuing in a serious way, it’s worth creating a way to show it, even if they don’t intend on majoring that area,” says Pollack.

Find out more about college scholarships at Big Future and Scholarships.com.