Tripping Over the Bar...

10:44 AM Elizabeth Seckman 22 Comments

Last Saturday was orientation day for my son’s soon to be home away from home.

Caleb and me...Natl Honor Society induction
I’m about to be the mom of a college student.

Sigh. I’ll pause a moment while you feel sorry for me.

Thanks. I needed that.

Now, that sympathy was nice, I appreciate it…but I do have a reason for this post!

My son just got a 34 on his ACT (YAY CALEB!!)…2 points away from a perfect score. He has carried a 4.0 GPA since he was in kindergarten. He’s the president of two honorary societies and the National Honor Society. He’s a lovable, huggable over-achiever and his dad and I couldn’t be prouder!

Most of you are probably thinking…woo hoo…free ride through college!

Not so fast.

He is receiving scholarships through West Virginia University and our state’s Promise program (thank you WV tax payers and lottery ticket buyers for that!). But these two together cover about half the cost. To fund the rest, my son has been diligently filling out private scholarship applications from everywhere…from Burger King to the local credit union.

Now this extra work doesn’t kill him. He’s a smart kid and spending evening after evening writing essays and filling out forms is just how an egghead rolls.

My beef? To get a Pell Grant (the need based pay out) a person only has to have a 2.0. They can fall as low as a 1.4 and then it is up to the college to decide whether or not they are making “academic progress” and deserve to keep the grant. That’s free money.

Who doesn’t want that?

Some parents who share our boat were joking about the ways we could open the doors for easier funding for our kids…we could all get divorced; we could quit our jobs; or we could marry our kids off to each other thereby making them poor independents.

I don’t have a problem with need based pay outs, but a 2.0? Have we set the bar so low it becomes too easy to trip over?

We bemoan constantly the failings of the American educational system, yet we reward mediocrity instead of success. A student is better off, lucratively, to have a 2.0 and a low income than a 4.0 and a middle class income.

Yet we blame the teachers, the parents, and how the stars are aligning in the sky for our “failing” educational system…when honestly if you want more students to reach for those stars…lift the bar at least to shoulder height.

*Now for all you middle classers who will need to scour the universe for scholarships here are a few tips:

~ Start early. I didn’t realize there are some scholarships available for freshman. (FastWeb)

~ uPromise. Join their program and the money you spend at participating businesses is matched from 3-10% and accumulates as a sort of “cash back” that can be sent to colleges and applied to costs.

~ National Merit Finalist…you know all those “awards” you get in the mail, and ignore them thinking it’s another Who’s Who; you know, a nice little accolade, but not worth cash? Well, the National Merit Semi-Finalists are chosen after they take the PSAT in the Junior year. Become a finalist and it’s worth $6,000.

~ Get a flash drive for each student. Use it to keep track of all their awards…build a resume and update it as it changes.

~ Save all the essays on this flash drive. Who wants to write, “what are the plans for your future?” a hundred times? Cut and paste.

~ Get a daily planner. List all the scholarships you’ve found and dates they are due. Do the soonest to expire first, of course.

~ Bug the school guidance counselor. They receive the information about the local scholarships. My son’s school has a place on their website listing available scholarships.

~ Applications always want a list of activities. To make things easier on everyone, we made a form. It’s easy to read and that list of activities is printed out with a click of the mouse.

This is nearly impossible to read, even with the contrast lowered, but you can get the general idea.


  1. Oh my gosh, my kids are going to be in college someday. I wonder how much will change before then?

    I remember doing the whole scholarship thing. It was a ton of work. Your system is great. You've got it down pat!

    1. Hopefully prices will drop. It truly is becoming insane. Throw in the cost of books and misc fees and you better either be below poverty or part of the 1% to survive with the shirt on your back.

  2. Oh man, this brings me back to applying to the colleges I never went to because I couldn't afford them. I had an 11000 scholarship to one and I still needed 8000 more to go! And the parents made too much money for the pell grant. Sigh...

    I could totally go now though! If, you know, I wasn't watching the kids all day, lol.

    1. And that's so not right. Hard little hard workers like younger you should get a brake!

      Enjoy your kids...they grow so fast. And I'm totally sure you will be on the NY Times list any day! So, what's the worry?

  3. Congrats to Caleb on his ACT score!

  4. You tell 'em! My brilliant 3.8 average boyfriend still ended up with more than $38K in student loans after he graduated engineering school because he didn't 'qualify' for any kind of tuition assistance and the scholarships for academic excellence are so paltry. You are totally right - people are being rewarded these days for underachievement and I sure wish I knew how that happened.
    But congrats to Caleb again - he sounds like a super star! :-)

    1. And sadly, $38,000 is getting off pretty cheap. By the time he finishes law school (his plan as of now) he's likely to be in debt well over $100,000. I was talking to a doctor the other day, the price tag for med school is (according to one doc) $250,000.

      These numbers give me chest pains. Boy #2 wants to be a doctor!

  5. Man. I so remember applying for these scholarships before college. Didn't get very many... haha. One, I think :) For $500.

    And then when I was IN college I didn't get ANY scholarships. I was a 3.0 student (not bad). But I wasn't great, and I wasn't 'poor' because even though my parents didn't pay for any of my college that's what they look at, your parent's income.

    My sister got a BUTT LOAD of money though. Granted, she graduated with a 3.9 GPA. haha.

    Oh well. I learned other things. Like how to work two jobs during the summer and one during school :)

    1. When you want it badly enough, you find a way. My parent's didn't qualify either, though we were far from rich. My dad had a heart attack my freshman year and had medical bills and needed less stress at work, so I learned real quick that if I wanted to get a degree I had to get a job. It didn't hurt me...if anything it taught me to never give up.

  6. Congrats on Caleb's awesome grades! Way to go Caleb and the parents who raised you. Plus teachers. Can't forget the teachers. Yes education is tough but I'm careful about judging some requirements because not all students have the proper conditions to learn as well as they should. But standards do need to be higher in some instances.

    1. Yes, he had some awesome teachers.
      I also thank God. He's the one who gave him the brain. We must always remember where our blessings come from.

      Now, for those students who don't get a quality education or maybe they didn't have the best conditions at home for learning...setting the bar a little higher will help them the most.

      Here's my reasoning...
      If you tell someone they can't or that the deck is stacked against them and without "help" they will never make just clipped their wings. If you pity them, they will never learn their true power.
      I believe when a person feels they EARNED something, they are proud, they are empowered, they are made mighty as God intended.
      Now, I wouldn't deny them an education for a low GPA. I'd just have them go the loan route. That way they fully understand they will have to REPAY the money if they screw around and blow it.
      The way we do it now? You get the Pell with poor grades, you flunk out in two or three semesters, and then you're done. You go to work, you grow up a little, you realize that education was valuable and you flushed in down the go back to school and... stop right there! You owe the school oh probably $20,000+ and you can't go to school till you pay it back.
      With a loan? You are signing on the dotted line knowing you are fully accountable to pay that money back if you mess around. Don't have the skills you need when you start? If you're spending you're own money, you're more likely to spend time at the tutoring center.
      Finish and all loans would be forgiven.

      Whew...hope you didn't fall asleep by the end of that!

  7. Great advice. University education in the UK has just got a lot more expensive. My eldest is only 12, but I have a feeling it's the kind of thing that sneaks up on you!

    You must be so proud of your son - congratulations Caleb!

    1. It is going up over here so fast it is making my head spin.
      And yes, it does sneak up on you. I'm still wondering how we got here so fast!

  8. Hey Elizabeth,

    First of all... super congrats to you and hubby on raising such a tall son... er I mean, a very smart son :)

    Congrats also to himself, and young sir if I may offer one piece of advice:

    Spread your wings, but thread wisely. Remember that yes, the world *is* your oyster - but some pearls are not gems.

  9. I hope to be a mega-millionaire by the time my kids hit college...

    I have NO idea how I'm going to DO this...

    Yeah - I hear ya. My husband and I will be paying off students loans until we die - longer payoff than our HOUSE.

    It's a sad, sad commentary...

    1. You're on the right track Jolene!
      My husband HATES to carry debt, but unless we hit the lotto, he will just have to get used to the idea of making a payment until we're dead too!
      We promised our son we'd do the first 4 years; then he'll be in debt for the law school price tag. So. looks like we all die in debt!!!

  10. Oh, Elizabeth! I feel your pain.

    Our first is *off* to continue his education this fall, as well. He's an excellent student and a well-rounded kid who just so happens to have middle-class parents who cannot afford the university price tag for three children.

    Our state awards graduating seniors, who meet the requirements... and continue to do so, their first two years of state community college for FREE. Though the road may be fraught with transferring credit headaches, in the end, our son stands to save himself (and it is *his* debt) roughly $40,000 on that $80,000 four-year university ticket.

    He wanted the "four year college experience like some of his friends". And though we sometimes wish we could say, "The sky is yours and we'll forego any semblance of retirement trying to give it to you", we've learned some valuable lessons of our own along this Road To College this year. We can't possibly, in this current economy, afford *the experience*.

    I hear what you're saying about *earning your own way*. I'm a big believer in accepting responsibility entering into adulthood. Our children are privileged, in the sense that, they have two loving, supportive parents who have worked very hard in all areas of their lives to start them out in their own with healthy bodies and healthy attitudes.

    I support those programs for kids less fortunate than ours, which supports the basic philosophy, *Help US, Help YOU*! The problem is, of course, that low self-esteem takes root very early in life. We cannot wait until those kids, who need outside support, are graduating high school and heading in no real direction.

    Now begins our kids struggle toward higher education. We'll be there every step of the way where we can.

    Btw, Awesome job there mama! You done good.

  11. I all about helping people who want help. And the image kids have of themselves is soooooo important. We have to stop telling kids the deck is stacked against them; we have to start telling them young that if you work hard; if you make the CAN do it...and we will help. Let's throw pity out the window and start rewarding effort. And I don't care where you come from---you decide where you are going. Obstacles should only be hurdles, not road blocks.

  12. Congrats to Caleb and you! Sounds like he's well on his way to an awesome future.

    Re: FAFSA - Ugh - I know just what you are saying. My oldest is a sophomore right now and I am bracing myself for all the paperwork that's coming. We did start a college fund for him years ago but it's a drop in the bucket...and I know he'll likely be penalized just for having one.(He won't quality for the Pell Grant, for example.) O well. Thanks for the list. I am bookmarking this so I can find it next year when it's crunch time. :)

  13. Yes, you will have the college fund held against you. Heaven forbid you tried to be proactive and plan for the future. We had to declare all investments but retirement.

    Start that Upromise account now. I still can't figure out how exactly to use purchases to make the savings grow...too busy filling out scholarships and trying to get things wrapped up for graduation!


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