The College Board reports that the average annual cost of a four-year private college in the US is $43,921 for the 2015-2016 school year. For an out-of-state student at a public college, it’s $34,031.
That’s expensive. And frankly, there’s no guarantee of how much money you’ll receive in scholarships and financial aid — if any at all.
That’s where Raise.me comes in.
Colleges and universities register with Raise.me and specify three things: who is eligible to earn a micro-scholarship to their institution, which achievements merit a micro-scholarship, and how much each achievement is worth.
These micro-scholarships are guaranteed aid should a student attend the university that granted it. Admission isn’t guaranteed, but if a student applies and is accepted to a school that promised, say, $10,000 of micro-scholarships through Raise.me, the school commits itself to offering at least that much aid.
“The problem we’re seeking to solve is that every year in the US, we’re awarding billions of dollars to help students pay for college — but usually not until the end of their high school career, in the second semester of senior year,” says Raise.me cofounder and CEO Preston Silverman. “That’s after they’re supposed to have decided if they can afford it. For many students, the money is awarded too late to impact where they choose to apply or whether they apply at all.”
When you register for the site as a student, you’re asked to provide some basic information including your name, high school, birthday, ethnicity … as well as whether you’re a recipient of the National School Lunch program, and whether your parents graduated from college. (It’s free for students — the institutions cover the site’s costs by paying an annual fee for Raise.me to build and maintain its platform for the school.)
Every school also sets a minimum GPA for students who are eligible to receive money on Raise.me, and you must be attending high school in the US.
Based on these answers, you’re shown the colleges who offer micro-scholarships to people who fit your profile. While anyone between age 13 and 21 can use the site, the number of schools offering money increases for students from low-income backgrounds.
“We’re a social enterprise company, so we’re very focused on servicing students from lower income backgrounds and first generation students,” Silverman says. “Colleges can determine who they want to earn scholarships, and many partners will say only students at low-income schools. Some make it available to everyone.” Almost half of the 60,000 students who signed up for Raise.me in its first year (it launched the current iteration of the company in 2014) come from low-income families.
For instance, schools offer between $25 and $2,500 (depending on the school) to students who take an Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) program. They offer $25-$1,000 for a high grade, $20-$3,000 for taking two or more foreign language classes, and $50-$1,500 per year for taking on a leadership role in an extracurricular or sport. These are only a few of the achievements with price tags.
If you’re wondering why students can’t just sign up for the site with a falsely impressive résumé to increase their balance, the site’s FAQ makes it clear that the money is contingent upon the achievements being proven accurate during the college application process. Some colleges also require that a teacher or guidance counselor review and verify a student’s profile. If your Raise.me profile isn’t accurate, you don’t get the money.
The maximum amount of aid currently available is $80,000, and Silverman says multiple students have secured it. The average amount for a user last year was $20,000, and money granted to a student is spread over four years. “That’s important because we don’t want students in a situation where they receive a lot of aid for their first year and in subsequent years aren’t receiving as much aid,” explains Silverman. “That has been shown to be a major cause of students dropping out or taking on major amounts of loan debt.”
Silverman says that schools get involved with the site to engage students earlier and build a relationship over time, to help students see past the list price of a school, and to signal to prospective students what they can do to be better prepared to matriculate, so they can both become stronger applicants and stay through graduation if they do attend. So far, 130 colleges offer or are in the process of setting themselves up to offer micro-scholarships through the platform, including institutions such as Colby College, Oberlin College, Carnegie Mellon University, and Penn State.
Next, Raise.me is working on setting up platforms to work with corporations and foundations, and building awareness for students across the US.