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Parents reveal 10 steps to securing your child a private school scholarship

When it comes to scholarship applications, there’s only so much information you can glean from a school website. Sure, they’ll supply you with the deadlines and requirements – but nothing beats the wisdom of experience.

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We spoke to families whose children successfully applied for scholarships at Australian private schools, about the preparation processes that get results.

If you want your child to be a scholarship contender, here are 10 top tips you need to know!

1. Find your ‘why’

Scholarship applications require considerable effort from students and parents, including time and financial commitments. Be sure you are clear about why you want to pursue a scholarship and how it will benefit your family.  

Nicky’s daughter secured a general excellence scholarship at a prestigious Melbourne school. With 50% off tuition fees from Year 7 to Year 12, Nicky estimates this will save her family around $80,000 across her daughter’s school years.

For any family, this takes pressure off the household budget and may open up opportunities at schools considered unaffordable. Importantly, it also frees up funds to support your child in other ways across their educational journey, like hiring a tutor or travelling for extracurricular opportunities. That’s a good ‘why’ to keep in mind!

2. Research widely

Scholarship programs vary from school to school. The benefits range from cash bursaries to equipment subsidies or payment of tuition fees for a given period. Eligibility also varies, from ‘general excellence’ scholarships for all-rounders through to specific sports or performing arts achievement bursaries.

Search online, attend open days and talk to the bursaries team at your schools of choice – and do all of this well in advance of application deadlines.

3. Choose the right scholarship for your child

You have a much better chance of securing a scholarship if you are realistic about your eligibility. Know your child’s strengths and talents and find a scholarship that matches. Nicky knew her daughter was a talented ‘all-rounder’, for example, so a general excellence scholarship was the best fit.

Hollie’s daughter received a 50% fee reduction from Year 5 to Year 12, thanks to an academic excellence scholarship at her Melbourne school; while Regan’s son secured a sports scholarship for his final senior years at a Queensland school thanks to his earlier success in rowing.

For Regan’s son, this scholarship offered a 25% discount on fees for Years 11 and 12, saving the family around $10,000, but there would have been little point applying if he did not already have a strength in this area.

Read about the different types of scholarships offered by schools here.

4. Work your network

Don’t underestimate the importance of simply having your ‘ear to the ground’ when it comes to scholarship availability. In Regan’s case, her son became aware of the possibility of his sports scholarship via his rowing coach.

Some schools don’t advertise specialist scholarships, but leave it up to mentors like sports coaches or music teachers to identify talent in whom the school may choose to invest.   

Lisa has two daughters on athletic scholarships at Melbourne private schools. She made no formal application – the schools approached her! Lisa’s girls were both competing at state level athletics by Year 6, putting them ‘on the radar’ of coaches. They were offered scholarships covering Years 9 to 12, on the assumption of continued high level performance.    

“It’s good for a school’s profile to have a skilled athlete there,” Lisa says. “It’s a great marketing tool for them.” The same can be said for fine musicians, gifted scientists or dedicated students in any specialist field. Remember that there are mutual benefits to a school accepting a high achieving student, so make it known to your network if a scholarship is in your sights.

5. Mind the (skills) gap

Schools naturally undergo an ebb and flow of talent in specific areas like dance, music or sport and may be keen to ensure continued high achievement. Lisa suggests looking into what sort of focus a school has and what the current talent there is like. Your keen athlete or musician may ‘fill a gap’ in the school’s talent pool, or be able to offer coaching or mentoring themselves in their area of expertise. This increases their chance of successfully securing a scholarship.

6. Make a commitment to success

Once you’ve identified the right scholarship for your child, or been offered a potential scholarship based on your child’s ability, it’s time to make a commitment to success.

All of the parents we spoke to felt that putting pressure on your child is not productive. At the same time, though, students need to understand that scholarships are competitive and it takes commitment to get a successful outcome.

If your child is aiming for a sports or performing arts scholarship, they will need to dedicate themselves to that endeavour until the end of Year 12. If their interests change, they risk losing their funding.

7. Start early: 12 to 18 months is ideal  

Nicky advises preparing your child for at least 12 months before the scholarship exams. Her daughter did a series of courses and pre-exam tests, at a cost of around $1000, over the January school holidays to introduce her to the type of content she would be tested on, which can differ from everyday classroom subject matter.

Hollie hired private tutors for her daughter in Maths and English ($40-80 per hour) for the 18 months prior to application. She added exam preparation training into her schedule around 4 months ahead of the scholarship exams.    

Even in the case of a sports scholarship, Lisa says 18 months of preparation is required to showcase your athletic skills across a sufficient range of high level finals or competitions. Interschool competition results are not enough, and sports seasons don’t always run in line with the school year.

8. Boost your child’s CV beyond core skills

In the lead up to your application, you may also need to prepare supporting documents, like references from teachers or coaches, a portfolio or audition piece, and a good CV to present your child in their best light.

Once again, the earlier you get started on this process, the easier it is to identify and work on any gaps. For general excellence scholarships, in particular, some students pursue volunteering or other leadership opportunities in addition to sports and academic commitments leading up to their applications.

9. Get the timing right

Lisa’s daughters were approached in Year 6 for a Year 9 scholarship, and ‘getting in early’ is another of our parents’ top tips.

Hollie suggests looking around for Year 5 scholarships, as they are less competitive than those held for Year 7 and above – when many parents ‘get serious’ about securing prestigious private school places.

Hollie’s daughter also benefited from sitting her scholarship exam in November, avoiding a long summer of stress and preparation. Not all schools or scholarships offer the early testing option, so this is another variable to research.

10. Just do it

There’s no doubt that the scholarship application process can be daunting for parents and children alike, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Lisa will now save around $89,000 over 4 years on her daughters’ education, yet she’d never even considered applying for a scholarship before the schools approached her.

Her advice to other parents is “go for it!”. Although it is competitive, schools also change the types and numbers of scholarships available year to year. “Apply to a couple of different schools,” Lisa says. “You just don’t know what a school may be looking for.”

With a bit of luck and effort, you’ll find a school that’s looking for exactly what you are – the best education possible for your talented child.

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