WEST JEFFERSON-Elizabeth Hartley might be able to show you how to earn a free, or nearly free, college education.
She’s an education consultant with Lake Wylie, SC-based Scholarship Gold Consulting.
Over the past two decades she’s helped students earn big money scholarship awards from some of the nation’s top universities, including Ivy League schools.
She was in town this weekend speaking to Ashe County Schools students as part of a scholarship workshop hosted by Blue Ridge Electric. Here’s what you need to know.
Hartley knows what she’s talking about
She earned scholarships that paid for all four years of her undergraduate education, her graduate school studies in England, a summer spent studying the ecology of the Outer Banks and a winter spent studying whale migration in Hawaii.
Take advantage of 17
When you’re young and you want to change the world – there are people lining up to give you the money to get it done, Hartley said. At 40, not so much. “I tell students and their parents that this is a very dangerous three hours. At the end of this you’ll never be able to say ‘I didn’t know.’ What you do with that is up to you.”
Don’t limit yourself
Hartley said students coming from families with modest means oftentimes talk themselves out of applying for prestigious schools and scholarships. Don’t do that, she said. “They don’t realize if they’re on a fairly limited income but their child is bright, a world of opportunity is open to them right now. They shouldn’t pass that up.”
Pay attention to more than just the sticker price
Hartley said many families bypass private colleges and universities in favor of state funded schools. While those state subsidized tuition and fees may appear to be lower than that private school you immediately crossed off your list because it appeared to be too expensive, Hartley said you may want to reconsider that decision. “Because of the way the funding formulas work, that state school may actually be the most expensive option on your list,” Hartley said. “The numbers work differently depending on different situations and families need to know strategically how to pay the least. If that turns out to be a state school, shoot for an honors college. But private schools like Davidson are phenomenal at meeting all financial needs, whereas if you go to a state school, they’ll let you take out a loan all day long.”
There are no shortcuts
But you don’t have to be perfect. Hartley said she is routinely approached by parents who want guidance on what their child should do now that they just got a B in English. “Grades are still king and you have to learn how to take a standardized test,” Hartley said. “Kids have to be willing to work hard, but they don’t have to be perfect.”
You’re not a victim
Hartley has a motto. “You get to pick your hard,” Hartley said. Her meaning? Laying the foundation that can get you into a top tier university, and have your education paid for to boot, isn’t easy. You have to work hard to excel in class, become good at taking standardized tests and going above and beyond in your extracurricular activities. “But they have a choice. They’re not a victim,” Hartley said. “Doing all that it takes to get into your dream school is hard, but so is paying off your student loans for 30 years. Not getting into your dream school is hard. That’s the cool part about being in high school. You get to pick your kind of hard right now and you can own it.”
It’s just as important to be interesting
Hartley said college and scholarship application committees are bombarded with kids that are all bright and appear similar on paper. So you need to stand out. “It’s important to understand what your gifts are and articulate that,” Hartley said. “So you’re mediocre at math. I bet you’re incredible at something else and you need to be able to explain to people what that is.”
Toot your own horn. Nobody else will.
But you have to do it in a way that won’t make you sound like a jerk, either. “The key to not bragging – be grateful in the way you tell your story,” Hartley said. “Your accomplishments are the sum total of all the people, your family, coaches and friends, that have invested in you. You’ve made a difference because other people believed in you. Tell that story.”
Share a secret
Hartley said one young lady she worked with got out of bed an hour-and-a-half early each morning to write a sequel To Kill A Mockingbird. That effort came from her love of writing and her love of that particular story. When she finished, she sent the book off to 12 publishers. All of them turned it down. “But it didn’t matter,” Hartley said. “She’d learned so much and the story of how that came about was just so endearing. That’s the kind of thing you need to tap into.”
From a single wide trailer to Stanford
One of Hartley’s most interesting stories? She once worked with a young man whose family came from modest means. He lived in a single wide with seven other family members, and they had no Internet, no cable and he went to a public school. “But he was very bright and he applied himself,” Hartley said. “When I first met with his family, they asked me, ‘Well, after his first years at the community college and he’s done well there, what should we plan on after that?” Hartley said the family completely underestimated that young man’s situation. He never went to a community college. But he did just graduate from Stanford.
It’s not about the brand name
Hartley said the top schools on each student’s list is nearly always the same. Everybody wants to go to UNC-Chapel Hill, or Stanford, or Duke or Clemson, but the trick to big time scholarship awards also depends on who you are and where you apply. “The top brand name schools, it’s a numbers game and you have to be strategic,” Hartley said. “The other 4,000 schools across the country? They’re still looking for these bright kids.” Your goal is to look at the places where you outpace the average member of that school’s incoming freshman class. If you can help pull up their SAT or ACT average, you have a better chance of earning a full ride.
For more information, visit http://www.scholarshipgold.com