College Climb

Navigate your way to scholarship money to fund your child's education

Paula and Jesse James of Hackensack, New Jersey, vividly recall the year that was full of frantic phone calls, applications and campus visits. Their 18-year-old son, Randy-now armed with nearly $25,000 in scholarships and financial aid-sits beside his mother, eager to discuss his admission to Lebanon Valley College of Pennsylvania, in Annville. “Lebanon Valley offered me the best financial aid package,” says Randy, who will suit up for the basketball and track teams this season. The substantial monetary assistance he received will enable him to enter his freshman year without any major financial headaches, no small feat since his school fees amount to $22,750 annually. “But I still have three more years to go,” he sighs, as if wondering about paying for his remaining college years.

The experts say Randy needn’t worry because there is financial aid available for college-bound students. According to the 1998 booklet Trends in Student Aid (The College Board, 800-323-7155, $12), student aid totaled $60.5 billion for the 1997-98 academic year. Of this amount, 34.3% represents federal, state and institutional grants-dollars children like Randy won’t have to repay after college. But prepping students for one of the most challenging academic maneuvers-graduating from college without inheriting a mound of debt-isn’t something that happens overnight. Getting past scholarship selection committees means employing the same strategies used to gain entrance to college. A competitive academic record, an assortment of extracurricular activities, extensive research and a strong application are essential elements in securing those sought-after scholarship funds. And although the process is as involved as it sounds, it’s well worth the effort. Your assistance can make all the difference, so here are some ways you can help.

STRESS ACADEMIC AS WELL AS EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
Parents must “adopt an approach of early awareness,” says Leah Y. Latimer, author of Higher Ground: Preparing African-American Children for College, (Avon Books, $12). She argues that parents must be proactive by preparing their children to become achievers at an early age. “My mom and dad were there, but they didn’t have to encourage me too hard because I wanted to make good grades,” says Joyelle Taylor, a 20-year-old accounting major who won a full scholarship to the business school at Texas Southern University (TSU), Houston.

Your child’s academic curriculum should contain three to four years of math, and at least one year of challenging electives. Children with high aptitudes should be enrolled in honors and advanced placement (AP) courses. Taylor graduated with a 4.25 GPA (throughout her high school career, she took honors courses that are graded on a 5-point scale). Now a junior in college, Taylor is reaping the benefits of her high school academic achievements. She received a total of $33,250 in financial aid from private scholarships and grants. Although Taylor is probably the exception rather than the rule, she believes most students can do well. They just need to maintain high standards in school.

Of course, parental participation is also key.

“My mother has been very important because she’s been on my back since sophomore year [about

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