Back to Blog

Why Do Some Students Get Scholarships And Others Don't?

apply to college college admissions essays high school paying for college scholarships seniors tuition Jan 04, 2022

Let's talk about scholarships!

I had a woman reach out to me. Her son had a 4.3 GPA. He had all of the extracurriculars, the volunteer work, foreign language, and yet he didn't receive a single scholarship and they were perplexed. They thought that they did everything right— so where was their scholarship money?

Why do some kids get scholarships and others don't? Sometimes it comes down to the school.

If money is a factor when going through the college selection process and planning your child's future, as it is for most families, figuring out what schools to apply for ahead of time is crucial. The types of school that your child applies to can determine how much money they are awarded. There are some schools that are very generous with the money they award, and there are others that are not.

Often, really elite and selective schools aren't that generous because they have a waiting list. They don't need to incentivize students to attend— if you don't want to take that seat at full price, there's somebody who will. On the converse, many state schools receive benefits based on the number of students that attend their school— so they want to incentivize attendance. Of course, the reverse can also be true— some elite schools can be incredibly generous with their financial aid packages (Yale is a great example!), while some state schools are stingy with their financial aid (like Ohio State). 

The goal is to find a school with a good balance of generosity while also having an outstanding program in the area in which your child wants to study. It's beneficial to know in advance which schools are generous and which schools are not, especially when comparing the demographics, class size, average awards, and the type of programs offered. You could be setting your child up for disappointment by applying to the more elite schools if ultimately they are unable to pay for it.

Our favorite resource for researching schools and comparing their typical financial aid package is CollegeData. This site offers a number of free tools to college applicants, including an EFC calculator, financial aid tracker, and scholarship finder.

Colleges are creating a community.

Let's talk about subjectivity. While some schools might weed out some applicants based on information sorted by a machine— minimum GPA, test scores, et cetera, a machine is NOT making the final determination on who gets in. People do! There is someone physically looking at everything, making the decision on who's a good fit for their school and who is likely to thrive there; determining who is going to succeed and go on and represent them well in the world. There's subjectivity to that. The more information that you can provide when applying to colleges, the better. But in addition to the activities list, the grades, and the test scores, how do you become the one with the money in place of someone else?

The Answer is: College Application Essays!

Colleges want kids to fit in. They want to know who you are, that you're going to get along with other students in the class, that it's the right type of school for you, and that there's some uniqueness to you. They're looking to build a community, because a student that is happy and thriving in their community continues to attend school and goes on to accomplish something and represent the school. 

Your college application essays are an opportunity to show the school that yeah, I fit in. I'm the type of student you're looking for. I'm going to get along with other people. I'm going to be happy there. I'm going to come back and I'm going to make a difference. I'm going to come to campus and I'm going to do something impactful! I'm not just going to get good grades and sit in my dorm room. I want to participate. I want to make changes. I want to get others involved. I want to help your school create new things and I want to lead.

This is really important because the students who are being offered full rides, full tuition scholarships, 90% tuition scholarships, are students whose college application essays sparked something in admissions. 

Writing College Application Essays That Set You Apart

So what's that unique factor? What sets you apart from everyone else? What's that unique perspective that you can take and show who you are as an individual in an interesting way, because again, the college application essay decisions is subjective. You want a good hook. When you consider admissions, they are reading hundreds, if not thousands of college essays in a week. They don't want to read the same thing over and over again. So find your hook, find your niche where you can show that you can be a leader and that their community has something to gain from accepting you to their college.

Letters of Recommendation

Don't forget your letters of recommendations, too. Having someone validate what you're capable of is really important to the colleges you're applying to. The best recommendations aren't always the classes that you had the highest grade in, too. A lot of times kids will say, "I didn't do so well at the beginning of my pre-calc class, I️ don't want to ask that teacher because I️ don't know if they will say good things." When in reality, that is a perfect opportunity for them to showcase how you overcame a problem with something that didn't come naturally to you. That you were willing to put in the additional work and time to seek help when you needed it. Colleges you are applying to want to know that you can handle some adversity and a challenge, because your college experience will show you both.

Look outside the school— there's money for college everywhere!

One thing that I've seen parents miss the boat on so often with scholarships are places of employment for both parents and grandparents— especially if a parent or grandparent are in a union. Unions give great scholarships but are often overlooked. We hear all the time, "I️ didn't even think to ask grandpa if there was a scholarship opportunity that the grandson/granddaughter could apply for." Make sure you look on the company website for the student's immediate family— or even the student's own job, if they work for a company like Starbucks or McDonald's


Another resource to find college scholarships is Scholly. This paid site will curate a whole list of available scholarships for you. Once you put in your profile information, it will weed out scholarships to only what's applicable to you. From there, you can start applying by deadline. This is something that you can continue to do all throughout college and earn additional scholarships. It is a numbers game. The more you apply for, the more likely you're able to get scholarships. Many scholarships on Scholly do not have a GPA barrier, so if you (or your child) doesn't have the type of grades that will automatically earn them scholarship money in college, then you definitely want to take advantage of a site like this!

The bottom line is: paying for college doesn't end with applying for college. Making sure you stand out and applying for additional colleges can make a world of difference!

Working With the Kelly MacLean Achieve Center

To get help College SelectionWriting College Application Essays or other aspects of the College Readiness process, contact KMAC. From our local headquarters in Westlake, Ohio, we help students with ACT Prep, ACT Tutoring and the College Application Process throughout the United States.

 Join our Facebook Group: College Made Easy by Kelly MacLean.