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In the throes of college application stress, high school students might not think of the College Board — the organization that makes and administers the SAT as well as the PSAT and other standardized tests — as their friend.
That might change when the not-for-profit membership organization launches a new $25 million national scholarship program that will reward students not for high academic grades or scores, but simply for completing steps in their own college planning.
When designing the new College Board Opportunity Scholarships, the organization listened to the feedback from thousands of high school seniors who said that their biggest regret was not knowing more about the college planning process before they went through it.
“When we gathered feedback from seniors, the most haunting words we heard over and over again were, ‘I wish I had known,’” said Priscilla Rodriguez, the College Board's executive director of scholarships strategy, according to a press release.
“They would tell us, ‘I wish I had known about college lists. I wish I had known about free SAT practice on Khan Academy. I wish I had known about the FAFSA.’ The College Board Opportunity Scholarships are designed explicitly to make sure all students know about these crucial steps.”
In the new program, high school students beginning with the Class of 2020 can enroll in a program that guides them through six critical steps of college planning and offers them a chance to win money for their education for each of the actions they complete. If students finish all six of the steps, they will be entered to win one of 25 Complete Your Journey scholarship awards of $40,000.
Instead of writing essays or applications for the scholarship money, students will be entered for the chance to win micro-scholarships for completing tasks such as building their college lists, practicing for the SAT using College Board partner Khan Academy's resources, improving their SAT scores, or completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
For each step they complete, students will be entered into a lottery to win scholarships ranging from $500 to $2,000. If they complete all six steps in the program, students are eligible to win one of the $40,000 scholarships.
There is no GPA or SAT score minimum to participate, which the College Board believes is important to create access for students who would not be competitive for other scholarships.
“We hear from students and families everywhere that getting into college is too complicated and overwhelming. They are hungry for a simple guide. The new College Board Opportunity Scholarships program clarifies the path to college and encourages all students to stay on it,” said College Board CEO David Coleman in a press release. “All students can earn one of these scholarships, even students who never dreamt they could.”
Many parents of high school students from the Facebook group Grown and Flown Parents told TODAY Parents they would encourage their children to participate in the program.
"We already do these things, so it will be awesome to be in the running for some scholarship money," said Indiana mom Kristina Long, whose daughter is a current junior.
Lauren Stafford has twin sons in the high school class of 2020. "Anything to lower their debt," she said. "It sounds like it could organize them and keep them on task."
Others were skeptical. New York resident Marjorie Leff said her daughter, a junior, probably would not participate because she has already spent a lot of time preparing for the SAT privately and wouldn't need to use Khan Academy just to qualify for the scholarship. Another mom, Christy Renzulli, said she wished that the College Board would reduce the costs of the tests for all students instead.
The College Board Opportunity Scholarship program will officially launch in December 2018 for the class of 2020 and is open to all students who attend high school in the United States, Puerto Rico, and all U.S. territories, but students can sign up now on the College Board website. Half of the scholarships will be earmarked for students whose families earn $60,000 or less.