Should Son Pursue Top Scholarship at Safety School?

Question: Because of high grades and high test scores, my son was given a $15,000 merit scholarship from his Safety school. He is also in the running for (and has a good chance of getting) the college’s Presidential Scholarship of $17,000. We think (hope) he has a very good chance of getting into a number of his preferred schools. Our question is, do we waste the college’s time by submitting an essay and attending an interview for this scholarship, knowing that this is one of his last-choice schools?

It’s very honorable of you and your son to be concerned about going after a coveted scholarship at a college that is low on his list and thus possibly taking merit money from another senior who would happily attend this school. However, I feel that, since your crystal ball can’t yet tell you how your son will fare at his top-choice colleges, he should play out the string and try for the Presidential Scholarship at his Safety. But … as soon as he gets good news from any of the other colleges he prefers, he should contact the Safety immediately to say that he will not matriculate. (First make sure that this “good news” from a top-choice college also includes good financial news, if he’ll need aid to attend.)

It’s possible, too, that in the course of pursuing the Presidential Scholarship, your son will become more interested in the safe school, so, if he does land the big money, he might be enticed to enroll. (Stranger things have happened.) Don’t feel that you are wasting the college’s time. Most admission folks understand that merit money is designed to lure sought-after students away from more selective institutions, and thus they realize that their top candidates may ultimately make another choice.

Thus, I vote for him to stay in the running for now, but to be conscientious about pulling out the moment he knows that he has a better option.

Good luck to him as he vies for the scholarship and awaits his other verdicts,