I’ve written previously of the importance of planning for high school, and about mapping out a list of courses and experiences needed to reach the finish line with a successful goal in mind.
If you haven’t looked at one in a while, see what a comprehensive, four-year high school plan might look like, for a traditional or college-bound student, to refresh your memory:
Now, what if scoring ‘the big state scholarship’ is also part of the plan? How should families include scholarship requirements on the high school plan, and is it reasonable to expect teens to complete any extra courses by the time they turn the tassel, too?
The answers to these questions lie in the scholarship handbooks themselves. In Florida, for instance, a new Bright Futures Scholarship Handbook comes out every year. Inside, all the requirements are shown in table format, plus any revisions to the program are clearly explained. Georgia’s HOPE scholarship program also comes out with annual web updates, as do all the other big merit scholarships offered across the United States every year.
Look up your state’s scholarships by starting with your department of education’s website, or the office of financial assistance. Chances are, there’s a big scholarship opportunity available to your homeschooled teen, and your goal is help him/her find out about it — early enough to make the right choice.
Reviewing Requirements / Making Decisions
For the best chance at earning scholarships, parents and their teens should carefully review scholarship materials, making a list of classes, test scores, volunteer hours, GPA scores, letters of recommendation, or anything that could potentially be needed upon application. Ideally, this review should take place during Freshman year, or even before, to get a jump on everything that needs to happen over the next four years.
With the requirements in hand, it’s time for important decision making, including knowing whether the student is genuinely planning to attend college (assume yes if they’re not sure), whether funding is definitely going to be necessary, and if the student is willing & able to follow [at least a semi-] traditional curriculum path that preparing to earn the scholarship might require.
Florida: A Case Study
As an example, take a peek at Florida’s 2020-2021 requirements for the Bright Futures Scholarship, keeping in mind these eligibility requirements can change from year to year:
As you can see, in some cases, the choice is clear and easy. Students already planning to attend college and already planning to complete a traditional and rigorous curriculum may find they were already going to be eligible for the scholarship anyway. Or, at least, with a few simple course substitutions or alterations, scholarship eligibility is already closely within their reach.
For students pulling together a unique or non-traditional high school experience, however, the decision may be a more difficult one. Weighing the value of doing high school one way versus the potential of meeting scholarship requirements is something to think strongly about. Or maybe the choice is already quite clear, as the student may be unwilling to cater to an institutional view of a high school education, favoring a more personal and meaningful approach for the next few years.
[The same choices are made for dual enrollment degrees, by the way, but that’s a topic for another day.]
In general, state scholarship requirements closely resemble a rigorous high school public education, or some set of courses which typically prepares graduates for entry into competitive public colleges and universities. In Florida, for instance, students must take 4 math courses, 4 English courses, several science classes, and so on. Since these programs are merit-based, scholarship committees must quantify what they’re seeking in terms of what the best high school graduates have to offer every year — forcing homeschoolers to fit into those frameworks, too.
What I Recommend
The best advice I can offer — and what I tell my own clients – is to first have a heart to heart conversation with the student, or many conversations over a period of time, going over the possibilities for homeschooling high school, and trying to ascertain to some degree what the student’s goals are for graduation. Then, armed with that information, it immediately becomes obvious whether planning for state scholarship eligibility falls easily within the high school plan the student might have followed anyway, or whether aiming for big state money requires a major change of focus and intent.
I also try to guide my clients to look at all sides of the decision making, if they can. Whereas free scholarship aid is an excellent goal and can make the difference between the student attending the college of his/her choice, or going to a less expensive local, part-time or online option, the lure of college funding can also blind us to leveraging the power of a home education during the high school years. That power, of course, includes the freedom to customize an education for our specific learners and to meet them exactly where they are, with exactly what they want to do. Why, then, would we turn our backs on this freedom and potential for a crack at winning free college later on?
It can be hard to look away from free money and set aside our desire to make high school a practical and enjoyable learning experience for the student. But, in the end, prepping for college and scholarships with a student who is interested in neither, can make high school overwhelmingly difficult and time-consuming, not to mention miserable, too.
In summary, I advise tackling these important questions early and often during the high school years. It is only by talking things out that families can determine whether state scholarship goals are necessary and realistic, or will underserve the teen’s only chance at making the most of his/her high school years. And this is a very personal decision indeed.
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Dr. Marie-Claire Moreau is a college professor who traded in her tenure to become a homeschool mom 20+ years ago. A homeschooling pioneer and the founder of many groups and organizations, she works to advance home education, and is an outspoken supporter of education reform coast to coast. Her book, Suddenly Homeschooling: A Quick Start Guide to Legally Homeschool in Two Weeks, is industry-acclaimed as it illustrates how homeschooling can rescue children and families from the public school system, and how anyone can begin homeschooling within a limited time-frame, with no teaching background whatsoever. A writer, a homeschool leader, and a women’s life coach, Marie-Claire mentors in a variety of areas that impact health, education and lifestyle. A conference speaker, she has appeared at FPEA/Tampa, H.E.R.I., HECOA, Start Homeschooling Summit, Luminous Mind, Vintage Homeschool Moms, iHomeschool Network, and other events. Her articles have appeared in and on Holistic Parenting, CONNECT, Homefires, Homemaking Cottage, Kiwi, Circle of Moms, and hundreds of sites and blogs nationwide. Marie-Claire can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.