Scholarships with 2 or 3 D's on Transcript?

Our son is a high school junior, and is starting to look at colleges. He is in a highly regarded math/science magnet high school, and has an overall GPA around 3.3 or so. However, he has a couple of D’s in English classes and also has a biology class he didn’t do that well in. However, the really advanced math classes and other science/engineering classes he’s done very well in. He took the PSAT last year and scored over 200. He probably did a little better in the National Merit Qualifying test. Being a national semifinalist isn’t too likely, since the qualifying score for our state is one of the highest in the nation. My wife believes the few low grades make a scholarship from a middling college highly unlikely. Having gotten a partial scholarship myself without great grades and a good but not great SAT score, I disagree. I realize this is a hard thing to predict, but should Junior start saving his nickels and dimes?

I do some interviewing of candidates for my university’s (regional state school wanting to recruit smart kids) biggest/shiniest scholarships, and the criteria for consideration are GPA and ACT/SAT scores-- that gets them in the door to apply for this big one; we have applicants with slightly less shiny test scores but stellar grades and vice versa, and everyone writes an essay and has an interview and tries to look ‘leadershippy’-- some have ‘meh’ (but qualifyingly good) numbers but are clearly very interesting and have a certain something: drive, direction, ideas, plans, whatever that makes them stand out. I also am on the scholarship committee for my department (art) and we are totally willing to throw some money at incoming students who apply and have great looking portfolios, as long as they meet the qualifying GPA (like… 3.0?). We’re not Ivy, but most of us aren’t. A few low grades are not a dealbreaker (we mostly look at overall GPA). But he should save his pennies, too.

I think Junior should have started saving his nickles and dimes in his crib. You can never count on scholarships - particularly large ones. Even with ideal grades and test scores.

And there tends to be a trade. I have a friend’s son who got into Stanford and a cousin’s daughter who is going to Vassar. Neither school gives much (or anything) in merit scholarship money - and in both cases the financial aid package was small based off parent’s assets. Both kids could have gone to a decent “non-name” school (like a regional state school wanting to recruit smart kids) and gotten a free ride, but chose the expensive school with cachet. Are you and your kid likely to go for the dollars or go to the best school he gets into?

Probably he’ll follow the dollars, as long as the school has a major he’s interested in. I don’t think he cares at all about a school’s cache. It’s not as if we’re destitute, but he’s probably going to need a partial scholarship. This came up because he expressed interest in a private school that most folks outside our state (and many in our state) haven’t heard of. Granted some may have heard of it by its old name. My wife said he’s unlikely to get any kind of academic scholarship due to some low grades, despite an overall acceptable GPA. I maintain that strong SATs may get him some scholarship money at a middling school. I looked at the SAT scores of the 75th percentile for this school, and he’s likely to score way above that based on PSATs. My wife comes from an upper middle class family where grades are valued, while my background is more working class (I didn’t want to go to college, but ended up getting a Master’s). Despite some low grades in English classes, the kid actually writes very well. It’s that type of writing that appeals mostly to English teachers that he has problems with. He has written things that greatly impressed folks who write for a living. I think my wife is being overly pessimistic; I freely admit I may be leaning too far the opposite direction.

Some schools don’t even have academic scholarships, and any independent academic scholarships will just be offset by an equivalent reduction in financial aid (assuming you’re getting any.)

In my experience, for a lot of schools, only the raw GPA matter. He’ll have to do some remedial classes for subjects he’s not doing as well in, but the scholarship will be GPA and testing (SAT/ACT/PSAT) based.

English is the only class he has a problem with, and he’s confident he can pass the AP exam despite problems with the class (he passed last year because he made an A on the final). The problem, it turns out, is that he didn’t turn in assignments if he thought he’d get a bad grade. Of course this resulted in even worse grades. Last quarter I think he got an A in everything else. I don’t see much remedial work in his future, since he just needs to get through Freshman English. Of course there’s no shame in going to the local community college if that’s what it comes down to.

I tend to agree with your wife and be pessimistic on the subject of scholarships. They are a hope for the best plan for the worst situation.

By the way, I was a national merit semifinalist with a very good GPA (not a 4.0, I got a B in PE my Freshman year) who had also developed a very nice volunteer resume in High School with the local community theatre and didn’t get scholarships until my Senior year in college when it was a student leadership - not an academic thing. Neither grades nor test scores are sufficient. There are people who get scholarships who you think “what the hell?” and people who don’t who you wonder why the hell not.

I got similar grades to your son: almost all As and Bs with C and D averages in math my last two years of high school. Despite my suckiness at math I remained in the top 10% of my class all four years of high school and never missed being on honor role. I volunteered at the elementary school, was in honor society, wrote for and co-edited the school lit magazine, was in ecology club, and was on the yearbook committee…

I didn’t get a scholarship until my junior year of college when I impressed someone in the English department.

Take any experiences more than 10 years old with a grain of salt: the financial aid/scholarship scene has been changing rapidly.

Financial aid is where the “real” money is for competitive schools. However, it can be remarkably lucrative and you don’t have to be poor to qualify: I think all households with income under $160K qualify for some sort of financial aid at the 100% needs-met institutions.

In addition to that, there are medium-range private schools that will basically pay for high test scores. Generally they will offer a package that reduces the cost to about what you’d pay for the local state school. But this is highly, highly variable.

Your description leads me to believe your son is at TJ. I’d find a good college counselor that is used to working with those kids and pay the fee for an initial consult. The price will make you flinch, but in an hour they can help you construct a list of schools–they know those kids, know how admissions actually work for the schools in the area, and if your son can give them a list of his priorities, they can likely make some very concrete suggestions about your least-cost option, if that’s your major concern. Make sure they realize that’s what you want: most people go to a college counselor wanting to know the most prestigious school they can get into. A good counselor can talk about either.

A good college counselor costs about 65% of what a good lawyer costs, in terms of hourly rate, so expect to pay in that range. But like a good lawyer, they can be very, very helpful.

Are you trying to win a an argument with your wife?

It’s not like you make a decision to apply to schools and scholarships based upon whether your parents think you will get them or not. You apply where you want to go to school, and then you apply for every financial aid/scholarship that is available…you get what you get.

Then you make a decision that’s best for you and your family.

My HS GPA was probably around 2.5, I had several Ds. I still got a scholarship based on my ACT score. So yes, it is possible.

Now, I lost the scholarship after a single semester due to my GPA, but that’s another story.

Aren’t these the same thing? And how is it scored nowadays? “In my day,” it was just the Verbal and Math sections, each scored 20-80, and the National Merit Qualifying Score was Verbal x 2 + Math (so the maximum was 240).

As for scholarships, if you’re talking “in general”, a 3.2 by itself doesn’t sound promising. You may have better luck trying to find a scholarship that is more math/science-based, since that seems to be where your son’s strengths are.

I also got a full scholarship with a 2.X GPA and really high test scores.

In my case it was National Merit which as you said he might not qualify for. That being said, 2 and exactly 2 schools offered me full scholarships (U Of Alabama and Florida State.)

I guess my point is, it might be well worth your time to hunt around, call schools, etc. moreso than in most student’s cases. You might be surprised how many schools are willing to pay for a student who will bring up their average SAT score etc.

To that end I’d also have him try to get as high a score on his SAT/ACT as possible, if that is still an option.

They took the test as sophomores, it didn’t count though.

No, we’re not really arguing about it. The fact is it’s been 30 years since either of us had to deal with college, and it was a lot less expensive in the olden days. I’m just trying to get an idea of what to expect. Sounds like it’s pretty hard to predict.

He’s not at TJ (I assume you mean Thomas Jefferson in Northern VA); we live across the river in MD. He’s in many ways in the same fix I was in, except it was math that dragged my GPA down. It’s also likely his SAT will be a couple hundred points higher.

My sense is that he shouldn’t set his mind on any specific school, since there are plenty of variables. The bright side is that we will have already been through the college search thing when his younger brother starts applying two years later. Different skill set with this one.

Thanks for the input, everybody. It wasn’t so complicated back in my day.

Here’s an update. Slacker son was a National Merit Semifinalist and ended up getting a decent scholarship at Temple, where he will enroll. Btw, his grades are much improved. He’s even gotten B’s in English. Even though he ended up with a D in AP English last year he still got a 4 on the AP exam.

Thanks for the update and good job.
( I like updates )

Hey that’s great! Good luck to him.