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Articles / Applying to College / Should Son Pursue Top Scholarship at Safety School?

Should Son Pursue Top Scholarship at Safety School?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Jan. 25, 2010

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,

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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