Using the ACT to Get College Scholarship Money

When your child’s applying to college, it’s an exciting time—but for 99% of us, it’s also a scary time. With the price of higher education creeping ever upwards, the prospect of shelling out $100,000+ (or even triple that) for a B.A. or B.S. can be pretty scary. Financial aid is a good option for many families, even if you aren’t sure that you qualify, but scholarships are a great way to close gaps and ensure that your son or daughter isn’t saddled with more student loan debt than necessary.

However, you may be surprised to know that your child is probably already participating in activities that provide him or her with a shot at available scholarships for college students. In fact, one is so common that you may have overlooked it altogether: prepping for the ACT.

Scholarships and ACT Scores

Many schools offer scholarships based on ACT scores. Of course, these scholarships are only available if your student attends the school, but the financial rewards can be impressive. (Scholarships may more may not also have GPA requirements or require a separate application, so this is something to check with individual schools.)

You might think that only extremely high scores will qualify students for scholarships—but this is definitely not the case. For some scholarships, the higher the better; at the University of Montana-Missoula, the Presidential Leadership Scholarship (worth $37,492) is only open to students scoring a 31 or higher on the ACT. However, Eastern Michigan University offers 20 Presidential Scholarships worth $69,500—and the minimum ACT score is 25. To put this in context, the average ACT score is 20.8.

The Role of ACT Scores in Scholarships

Does this mean that students’ ACT scores don’t matter (for scholarships, anyway)? Definitely not! In many cases, the higher the score, the better the chance of getting the scholarship—or the more money available. For example, Miami University (OH) offers up to $32,000 for Ohio residents and $44,00 for non-residents scoring 27-29 on the ACT. On the other hand, students scoring 33 or higher can earn scholarships of up to $60,000 (resident) or $137,000 (non-resident). A score bump of four points can mean more than $90,000 difference!

Finally, don’t discount other scholarships that provide money based on where you live, your student’s field of study or talents, and/or your racial, ethnic, or national heritage. Many of these scholarships have ACT baselines for application, but they may be lower than you think. Again, the higher the score, the better the chance your student has of receiving these scholarships.

Giving Your Child the Best Shot

How can you help your student get this scholarship money? The most important thing is that he or she should not go into the ACT unprepared. Provide your student with the chance to take a free ACT practice test to identify his or her strengths and weaknesses. There are plenty of free or inexpensive ways to prepare for the ACT, but they’re not worth anything if your child doesn’t use them; make sure you provide enough time for your student to prepare for the test before his or her test day. Is it nice to have the exam over with? Sure. But it is even nicer to study for a little while longer and get $90,000 in scholarships? Definitely. By providing your student with the materials and time he or she needs to get a great score, you’re setting them up for success.


About the Author

Rachel Kapelke-Dale is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a Ph.D. from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over a decade. Currently, Rachel lives in Paris.

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