Diolanda Caballero’s ears perked up when a guidance counselor mentioned a new website where students could earn scholarship money just for completing routine high school activities.
She was a sophomore at Foothill High School in Nevada at the time, dreaming of going to college out of state but worried about the costs. “I was like, ‘I can get a scholarship for getting an A? Heck yeah,’” Caballero says.
She signed up for Raise.me the very next day.
Raised by a single mother, Caballero will be the first in her family to go to college. She is the exact type of student Raise.me is looking for.
Launched in 2014, the website allows students to start earning small scholarship offers as early as ninth grade. Students create a portfolio, add their grades and activities, then instantly view scholarships from some of the 250 colleges that are members of the service—a list that includes New York University, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Arizona, and Michigan State University. While they can start racking up a college’s scholarship money right away, they don’t actually get any of it unless they are accepted by that school and enroll there.
In the almost three years since the service launched, 700,000 high schoolers have signed up. The company says 45% of its users are the first in their family to go to college, and 40% come from a low-income background. These students often don’t have the same access as their wealthier peers to guidance about the variety of colleges and financial aid opportunities— but both Raise.me and its college partners say the service is trying to close that gap.
“It’s a good way to show students that college is affordable, it is accessible,” says Jody Glassman, director of undergraduate admissions at Florida International University, where roughly half of students qualify for federal Pell grants reserved for needy students.
There are several ways to earn awards—and the number is growing.
Students using the service can earn scholarship money in five different categories of achievement: academic performance, course rigor, extracurricular activities, exams, and college engagement. You can line up scholarship cash for an getting an A, for instance, or for participating in a team sport, doing well on standardized exams, or taking a college tour.
Last fall, Raise.me expanded the “extracurricular activities” category to include helping at home with family responsibilities or working at a part-time job, along with more traditional community service or school club activities. (About 30 colleges now award money for such activities.)
That addition was a deliberate attempt to expand the service’s applicability for lower-income students, says Raise.me co-founder George Kirkland. “Those low-income students don’t have as much time to participate in extracurricular activities, but they need an opportunity to show what they’re spending time on,” he says.
You can actually rack up a decent amount of money.
While they’re known as “micro” scholarships, Kirkland says the awards actually can be quite big. Each college decides how much it will award for certain accomplishments. They start as small as $10 for a good grade and go up to $68,000 for outstanding test scores.
Overall, Raise.me says the average student earns $22,500 in scholarships.