Scholarships: Motivating Students in an Often-Complicated Process

“It was like a dream. I was in shock, and I remember turning around and seeing my mom and she was very teary eyed.” 

Shock. Confidence. Relief. In a span of five minutes, Veronica names a wave of emotions she experienced as a high school student at Miami Arts Charter School in Florida. Now a student at Miami Dade College, Veronica is recalling a short moment last year that is having a long-term impact.  

In June 2022, Veronica was invited to a virtual meeting on college planning with her principal, her college advisor, and her mother. To her surprise, the meeting offered a bonus. On the call, representatives from BigFuture, a free planning guide that helps students take the right first step after high school, awarded her a $40,000 BigFuture® Scholarship.  

“My immediate reaction was I felt so relieved,” she said. “That weight that I had on my shoulders just went off.”  

Veronica is not alone in feeling a mix of emotions when it comes to the future. A recent Morning Consult survey conducted for College Board asked high school students how they felt about exploring their future careers. More than 40% of students selected feelings of hope, motivation, and excitement. Yet, about 40% of students also indicated feeling anxious and overwhelmed.  

Multiple factors can make decisions about the future feel overwhelming, including knowing where to start and figuring out how to pay for postsecondary education. These are just a few things students are grappling with, so actions that encourage students to explore and plan for life after high school now can be impactful later.  

Veronica qualified for a scholarship after creating a list of colleges on BigFuture that she was interested in attending, and starting this month, students in the 10th grade can qualify to win. This can help motivate students earlier in high school to complete key planning steps. 

Veronica is just one of more than 21,000 students that have been awarded a BigFuture Scholarship, totaling almost $19 million since 2018. 

“I was scared with college overall because applying is very intimidating and I felt a lot of pressure from my family being first-generation to do what is best,” she recalls. “I wanted to go and get my associates, but before the scholarship I was like ‘How am I going to do that?  That is going to be a lot.’ Now, with [financial] support, I am confident about finishing my degree and about moving on to those bigger universities.”  

Aimed at creating more opportunities to pursue a postsecondary education, the scholarships are uniquely structured. They don’t have a required essay, minimum GPA or test score, or a citizenship requirement. Simply put, the program rewards students for taking steps to plan for college and a career.  

Students qualify by building a college list, strengthening their college list, building a career list, and more which means that even if a student doesn’t win a scholarship, they still benefit from taking those actions.  

As important, the scholarships aim to support those with the most need. Students whose families earn less than $60,000 per year earn two entries per drawing, doubling their chances of winning. That’s why nearly 70% of all scholarships each year are awarded to these students.   

Addressing one area of concern, like paying for college, can offer more students the motivation they need to get started in planning what’s next.  

“I remember when I got the scholarship, I felt nervous because now that I had the resources, I needed to use them wisely,” shared Veronica. “It [the BigFuture Scholarship] gave me more confidence to move forward with my education.”  

And at a time when less than 30% of students surveyed indicated feeling confident about their future, that’s worth celebrating.