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How to Turn Your Child’s Extracurricular Activity Into Extra Cash for College

How to Turn Your Child’s Extracurricular Activity Into Extra Cash for College

Whether your kid is committed to sports, the arts, or even community service, here’s how to turn that passion for after-school activities into a college scholarship.

Jenna Turato, a rising junior at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, knew she wanted to go to college at a young age and knew she could use softball to get there.

Turato began playing softball when she was in third grade and watched her older sister play softball and receive a scholarship to college, so she seized the opportunity once it was her turn to apply. An accounting major who lives in her hometown of Garden City South, Turato currently is a pitcher for the Molloy Lions softball team and receives a $7,000 scholarship each year for athletics and academics. 

“I realized how much softball could really make a difference in my college experience,” Turato says.

It’s no secret college is expensive—and, with tuition costs rising, continually getting more out of reach for many families, especially low-income ones. Overall college enrollment declined by 3 percent between 2008 and 2013, falling from 68.6 percent to 65.9 percent, according to an annual survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. The most dramatic decline happened among low-income families, dropping from 55.9 percent to 45.5 percent. 

Many families may not be able to afford college without assistance, and this is where scholarships for academics or after-school activities can help to make it more attainable—and even, in some cases, tuition free. (These are separate from the need-based financial and student loans many families rely on to afford college.)

Alexandra Timoshenko graduated from Long Island Lutheran High School in Brookville in June and will be attending Molloy College in the fall to study music therapy. She is enrolled in the dual-degree honors program and was awarded a full-tuition scholarship because of her committed involvement in after-school activities. In fact, Timoshenko received full-tuition scholarships at all of the schools she applied to, including Belmont University, the State University of New York at Fredonia, and Seton Hill University.

In high school, Timoshenko was captain of the cross-country and track teams and participated in the jazz ensemble and band, along with a band program outside of school. On top of that, she took numerous Advanced Placement and honors courses and graduated as salutatorian of her class. She attributes her success in obtaining the scholarship to her work ethic. “Everything I did I poured myself into one hundred percent, and all that hard work paid off,” Timoshenko says.

Lilianne Gering, a recent graduate from Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead, was awarded various scholarships to attend Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, in the honors program as a double major in dance and business. Gering received merit scholarships, dance talent scholarships, and a scholarship from the Italian Genealogical Group for research on her Italian heritage. In total, she was awarded $38,000. “I was very excited and also a little shocked because I figured I’d get [scholarships], but I was surprised at how much I got,” she says.

Gering started taking dance lessons when she was little and was a part of the Spotlight Dance Studio in Wantagh for 15 years, where she did ballet, pointe, tap, hip-hop, jazz, lyrical, and kickline. Along with dancing there six days a week and teaching classes, she performed in her school’s production of The Nutcracker during each of her four years there. With two other girls, Gering was co-president of the production in her senior year, as well as the choreographer, director, and a lead role.

Gering advises students who are interested in applying for talent scholarships to become very involved with the activities about which they are passionate and to take on leadership positions in high school. “Colleges really want to see students who have leadership potential and the ability to lead and take on new roles within their school,” she says. 

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The Journey to a Scholarship

No one says it’s easy to earn these scholarships, as these successful teens’ stories attest. All require a strong commitment and passion—not just for the activities themselves but also for the sometimes-arduous college recruitment and scholarship application processes.  

In order for Turato to have been recruited to play softball at Molloy, she played on a travel team and at recruiting tournaments, to which college coaches are invited in order to decide who will receive offers and scholarships. According to National Collegiate Athletic Association rules, only Division I and II schools offer athletic scholarships; Division III schools do not.

For fine arts areas such as dance, theater, music, and art, students must submit a sample of their work or audition in person. Gering attended an in-person audition to be considered for a dance scholarship at Muhlenberg. Dance scholarships range from $1,000 to $4,000 a year at Muhlenberg and vary at other schools. 

When applying for merit-based scholarships, students must follow detailed instructions for submitting the required documents, such as a resume, essay, and transcript. Students should speak to their guidance counselor or teacher for recommendations on scholarships for which they should apply. 

John Rodis, music department chair at Long Island Lutheran High School, teaches AP Music Theory and symphonic band and prepares students for college through his program. His students follow the New York State School Music Association track, which is the New York affiliate of the National Association for Music Education to evaluate student musicians from elementary through high school. 

Rodis helps his students prepare for the final level of NYSSMA, which is to audition for the all-state level. Passing this level means that the student is able to read college-level music. When students go through this program with Rodis, they have more opportunities to apply for music scholarships. 

“These NYSSMA pieces themselves are great vehicles for college auditions,” Rodis says. “If the opportunity [to apply for a scholarship] presents itself to you, you will be prepared.”

RELATED: The Benefits of Playing a Musical Instrument

A College’s Decision 

Colleges, of course, factor in grades and standardized test scores when making admissions decisions, but they also review an applicant’s resume to be considered for various scholarships the institution offers. 

Marguerite Lane, the director of admissions at Molloy College, says an applicant’s activity involvement comes into consideration if a student did average on SAT or ACT scores. “The reality is that the students who are the busiest are usually the ones that are the most successful, even in their academic subjects,” Lane says. “They learn very valuable time management skills at a young age that will be very transferable for when they come to college.”

And it’s not just sports and the arts that can win a committed high school student tuition relief for college. Many schools also offer community service-based scholarships. Molloy’s range from $2,000 to $5,000 per year and are awarded to students who have served their schools and communities. “We are a mission-based institution and we recognize that [community service is] that component that’s equally as important [as academics],” Lane says.

Manhattanville College in Purchase offers community service scholarships starting at $2,000 as well. Nikhil Kumar, vice president of undergraduate enrollment management at Manhattanville, says students with more extracurricular activities on their resumes are favored because national data proves those students are likely to be involved and engaged on campus. “Some would argue that you learn just as much outside of the classroom, if not more, just by having those kinds of experiences,” Kumar says. “It’s teaching you life lessons and humility to give back and get involved.”

Involvement in an extracurricular activity in high school does not just translate into potential scholarships; it may also help students transition into college life because they can make friends with people from that same group or team. “It helps them adapt to their new environment,” Kumar says.

Kumar suggests applicants research the college and engage with the admissions office or faculty in their area of interest. For example, Turato kept in contact with Molloy coaches and made herself visible at recruiting tournaments while on her travel team.

An institution tends to be more interested in a student if that student shows an interest in that institution, Kumar says. “It shows what we call demonstrated interested, and that always weighs heavily in the admissions process.”

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Other Scholarship Sources

When seeking scholarships, Lane advises students to find opportunities beyond the colleges, such as scholarships offered by nonprofit and community organizations. “Students don’t realize that if they sit down and take the time to write that five hundred- or one thousand-word essay, it can really help offset their college education costs,” Lane says. “It’s really well-worth applying for as many scholarships as they are qualified for because those independent scholarships can really help them, even if it’s with books for the semester or travel expenses.”

Some of Lane’s suggestions include researching Awana clubs, Knights of Columbus, local churches and foundations, and opportunities from parents’ employers for scholarships. When applying, she also says students should thoroughly explain how deeply they have been involved in outside activities. For example, if a student volunteered at a church, it is better to specify how many hours for however many months she did so, rather than just saying she did volunteer work generally. “Show the level of commitment and how it impacts your life and how that has made you ready for college and for life,” Lane says.

All that effort and passion for after-school activities just may pay off and make college more financially attainable.

RELATED: Find Financial Resources

Scholarship Checklist

There are many types of scholarships out there to apply for, if you do your research. Here are the requirements that are typically needed for any type of scholarship:

  • Essay 
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Resume
  • Test scores
  • Transcript

Performing arts scholarships, including dance, music, art, and theater, require all of the above, but also:

  • Audition video (if you cannot attend in-person)
  • Portfolio of work

Athletic scholarships are different than the other types of scholarships because coaches recruit the students they want on their teams. Here is what a coach looks for in a student athlete, along with the requirements from above:

  • Highlight video
  • Communication with the coach via phone or email
  • Attendance in summer camps or showcases


Preparing Kids for Careers of the Future

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Main image: Lilianne Gering will be attending Muhlenberg College this fall as a double major in business and dance.
Photo courtesy Lilianne Gering

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