With the cost of college climbing rapidly each year — and new graduates’ student loan balances reflecting the increase — it’s more important than ever to look into alternatives to the traditional financial aid toolkit of scholarships, grants, and loans.
Micro-scholarships are a somewhat new approach to rewarding high schoolers for their performances. These scholarships are making a difference in thousands of peoples’ lives. Here’s what you should know about this trend in paying for school.
What Is a Micro-Scholarship?
First, the term is micro-scholarship — with a hyphen. The terms microscholarship and MICROscholarship have been copyrighted to a website that seems to have been dormant since 2016. For the purpose of this article, and the money referenced, the term to use is “micro-scholarship.”
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As the name suggests, it’s a small monetary reward that you can “bank” for redemption at a particular college.
You can receive micro-scholarships for any number of predetermined activities.
This includes getting a good grade, volunteering, or participating in extracurriculars. The exact task you need to complete will vary by secondary institution. Each award amount varies, too, though the term “micro” suggests that they will be much smaller than traditional scholarships, as they're meant to be earned over an entire high school career through many different activities.
To start your journey in discovering this type of funding, join the RaiseMe website as a student, teacher, homeschooling teacher, etc.
Which Colleges Offer Them?
This isn't an easy question to answer. The RaiseMe site requires you to register first before seeing the full list of participating institutions. Even after I did that as a parent, I couldn't easily access a single list. But the home page mentions a few well-known colleges, such as Arizona State University, TCU, and Oberlin.
You can also see if your college of choice participates by checking its financial aid page, Googling the college name and “micro-scholarship,” or contacting them. As the trend of micro-scholarships gets additional traction, I’m sure the number of participating colleges will grow.
How to Earn Micro-Scholarships
Each college will have its own unique possible amount that you can earn. The scholarships seem to apply to all four years of school. For instance, if you earn $500 for raising your GPA one point, that $500 will be available each year for a total of $2,000 during your time at the college.
That said, some schools may have minimum GPA or attendance requirements to keep the scholarship. Make sure you know the requirements ahead of time.
The tracking of tasks is based on an honor system. While some things will be simple to prove (such as your GPA), other earning tasks may require you just to state so. For example, the task of caring for a relative would be easy to cheat. However, they assume that kids with good character will be more likely to participate in the program and don’t seem concerned about fraud.
How Do You Get Paid?
The program is only open to high schoolers, but earning can take place all four years of college.
As such, it’s important to register and start earning early — as soon as your freshman year of high school.
You’ll also want to fill out your full portfolio. Keep checking on it to see how much you’re earning and make sure that you've provided all the info necessary for the colleges to know about your participation. You should also follow the colleges from which you want to earn. If you don’t follow a particular school, but then later attend, your funds won't be applied.
Note that you’ll also need to apply to the college for which you want to earn. Participation in micro-scholarships doesn’t guarantee admission. Just because you earned money through RaiseMe doesn’t mean you’ll get in. To get funds for the school of your choice, you need to:
- Sign up for RaiseMe during your freshman year
- Follow the school(s) of your choice
- Complete tasks by the deadline
- Apply and be accepted to the school(s) of your choice
Then you wait for your financial aid letter.
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What You'll See on Your Financial Aid Letter
Just like anyone else who applies for financial aid, you’ll receive a letter from the school telling you how much you earned in scholarships. You can accept this aid before enrollment and have it taken off your tuition bill.
The school has promised to give you at least the amount earned through micro-scholarships, so you should see at least that amount as a school-funded scholarship. This could be a “Wildcat scholarship” or something unique to that school. You could get just that amount, or you could get more.
In fact, you may want to look for other scholarships that you're eligible for on top of the micro-scholarships.
The money earned through RaiseMe won't be broken out as separate funds on your award letter. If you qualified for other privately funded money (such as alumni scholarships) when you applied for aid, this will be lumped together with the RaiseMe money.
You won’t be able to tell what’s what. But as long as you receive at least the micro-scholarship money earned, the school has met its obligation under the program.
Micro-Scholarships and the FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA) is still a necessary component for paying for college. Don’t skip this step! You’ll need it for grants (free money that doesn’t need to be paid back), work-study, and other funding, such as loans. Don’t assume that working through RaiseMe will fulfill the role of the FAFSA. Do both!
Some schools may choose to award only so many scholarships per year to one student. An athlete getting a sports scholarship may not be eligible for an academic scholarship. Or an art scholarship may limit the amount given through alumni scholarships. The school gets to decide how to shuffle money around and divvy up the cash. As such, micro-scholarships may mean that you get less from another bucket, but that will vary by school.
You should still get the same overall amount, and possibly more. Micro-scholarships are guaranteed and can be planned for in advance, so they still have their advantages, even if you're in a good position to receive other money.
Leveling the Playing Field
The new wave in micro-scholarships is — in a way — gamification of college scholarships. Instead of applying for the same 100 scholarships every other high school senior is vying for, writing an essay, and praying to get it, kids who use micro-scholarships can bank on funds for higher learning much further in advance by completing challenges each year.
Knowing as early as your freshman year of high school that you'll receive a minimum of $2,000 in scholarship money can take some of the stress out of college planning. The reward system that it institutes also creates more college-ready kids who will likely be the kind to make good use of that money.
Finally, with many scholarships based on children's ethnicity, sexual identity, residency, or geographic location — even their parents' place of work — this is an alternative for all kids to earn. A lot of the requirements for scholarships are beyond a student’s control. But the activities rewarded by micro-scholarships are attainable by everyone, provided that they're up for the task.