My husband and I were beaming with pride as our middle-school age son informed us he wants to be a doctor. Then, after our moment of parental pride, the reality of the cost of medical school hit us. We promptly asked him if he had thought about which college he wanted to attend. He had. It’s private and very expensive. He is not kidding. He has been thinking about this for some time. I do not anticipate he will change his mind. He witnessed two grandparents that he loved very much suffer and die from cancer. He is inspired to help sick people. How are we going to pay for his dream?

My research into scholarships has begun. It seems that most private schools offer them. Their purpose is generally to make education at their institution possible for poor folks like us. Qualifying and getting a scholarship is a competitive process. If our son earns one, it will be a demonstration of his skills, abilities, and gifts.

He knows that his academic performance has to be absolutely excellent. However, good grades are not enough. There will be tests, interviews, perhaps an audition and a portfolio of extra-curricular activities and social activities where he demonstrates his leadership skills and how he “gives back” to his community. All are key ingredients students need to present themselves to university faculty as the best choice to add to the dynamics of the university and make its legacy even greater.

Every institution will have their own requirements but, until the details are known, there are some general guidelines we can begin to focus on now to help our son begin grooming himself for what is to come:

•    Consistent good grades
•    Practice taking any standardized tests required for admission
•    Develop strong critical thinking and writing skills
•    Achieve some type of extra-curricular enhancement (sport, music, foreign language, art)
•    Regularly participate in community service to demonstrate good leadership skills: volunteer, captain a local sports club, fundraise for a charity, etc.
•    Take the most challenging courses in school

Unbeknownst to me, scholarships actually have a “season”. The year before a student plans to enroll in a college or university, they need to apply for a scholarship during the months of February and May, depending on the individual institution’s schedule.

Also, scholarships are not unlimited. Higher education institutions have a limited number of scholarships that they award. The lower the number, the higher the competition. Be prepared!

Also, once a student is actually enrolled, other scholarship opportunities may very well then present themselves. One example is organization based scholarships. Many organizations, clubs, sororities and fraternities offer scholarships to qualifying members. So, once enrolled, a student should get involved with a group that interests them.

There are so many different financial aid programs and scholarships. Our son has the potential to have actual cash disbursements, subsidies for books and equipment, as well as up to all of his tuition paid for. So, even if our son doesn’t qualify for a full-ride scholarship that pays for everything, there are many other options that he can greatly benefit from. And, scholarships are not exclusive. If our son qualifies for more than one scholarship, we could end up with a combination that could be exactly what we need to help us make his dream come true.

I feel very encouraged with just the little bit of research I have already done. Now, when I sit back and fantasize about my youngest son’s future, it is untainted with the bittersweet worry of financing eight to ten years at an expensive college. And, who knows, my husband and I may actually be able to retire by the time we are, um, say, eighty!