We at Catching the Dream tell students they should find and win all the scholarships they can. They can and should go to college with no loans at all. But how do they do that. Here are 15 rules that will help along the way.
Read the instructions. We cannot help you if you do not read the instructions, which are on our website.
Read at least two books a week all the way from middle school to high school. If you do not know what books to read, get your school library to order our book Reading for College.
Take the ACT or SAT starting in the fall of your sophomore year. We will pay for it if you need us to. We know from experience that you can improve your score on it.
If you do not get the ACT score you thought you should get, you should (a) read lots of books, (b) cram and study, and (c) take the ACT practice test, which should be available in your school library. We have had two students who improved their scores tremendously from the first time they took it to the fourth time. Both wanted to go to Stanford. Both got a 27 on the first test, which is the 83rd percentile. Both took it again, and got a 28, which is the 87th percentile. Both took it two more times; one got a 31, the 97th percentile, and one got a 32, the 99th percentile. That one got into Stanford, and the one with the 97th did not. It broke her heart, my heart, and her family’s.
The student with the 20 on the ACT who wants to go to Stanford or Harvard has a long way to go. In fact, that student can still possibly get in, as a junior transfer, but he will have to get a 3.8 or higher his freshman and sophomore years to get in. It will still be hard; the last time I checked, Stanford was only letting in 70 junior transfers a year. And it will help if you can throw a 95-mile-an-hour breaking fastball over the plate every time, or if you are a talented musician or artist. Regular people will still find it impossible to get it in.
Send your essay to CTD as early as possible to get a critique. Ideally you will have it done well before you start your senior year. This essay will go to most of your scholarship applications and in your college application packets. Read the “Essay Outline” on our website.
Schools should apply for a Reading Award Program (RAP) grant from us to help students improve their reading. We have been making these grants since 1991, and have made 180 of them. About 85 percent of them have worked major or minor miracles. Ganado Primary School, in Arizona, won the award from the state for the best school in the state in 1995, and won the same award from the White House. It all started with reading.
Students should make sure they read the instructions before they conduct their scholarship search and before they write the essay for any scholarships.
Students should do their own work and not depend on parents to do it for them. At least a quarter of the students who apply have their mothers call us. Once is a while it is a father, but 90 percent of the time it is a mother. Unfortunately, your mother cannot attend class for you or take your tests.
Call us right away if you want to apply. Students who fail to call us, which is most of our applicants, are inviting disaster and failure.
Go to our website, not some other website. We are on over 30,000 websites now, and have no control over the content or accuracy of any of them. DO NOT use an application form your school gives you, or a friend gives you, or that you get from another website. It may or may not be accurate.
Do not send us a Financial Needs Analysis (FNA) with no entries on the resources side. This is happening just this year, for some reason. If your college cost is $30,000, and you have zero resources, you cannot possibly be going to college. You are not fooling anyone, including us. There has to be some money on the resources side.
Do not send a handwritten essay or application form to us or to any other scholarship fund. We will send it back to you. Other scholarships may simply send you a letter of rejection, with no explanation. Handwritten papers—letters of recommendation, applications, essays, etc.—are verboten.
Do not send out copies of your CIB, FNA, letters of recommendation, and school transcripts. They are likely not to be acceptable to anyone. We will send them back to you, but other scholarships may only reject you with no explanation.
Put some planning into your letters of recommendation. In 29 years we have not yet received an adequate letter of recommendation. The fault lies with both students and faculty. Most letters simply repeat what the student put in the essay. What we and other scholarships want is some insight into the interaction that happened between the student and the teacher.
This story was originally published December 2, 2015.