College Question from a Utah Parent: My child got an F in an easy class during first quarter of his freshman year. Shortly after that he was diagnosed as having ADHD. He went to counseling and started medication and other helps that year. As he did his grades went up to the point that he rarely gets lower than an A- these days. However, those initial bad grades are still on his transcript, and the ADHD makes testing for the ACT and AP classes really hard. He only passed one of his four AP tests, and got a 23 or 24 on the ACT. My question is, are there recommendations for asking schools to take this into account when deciding on scholarships?


Answer from StepUp Utah Paying for College Expert, @StepUpJacob: Hi there! This is a really good question about paying for college. I have a few suggestions to keep in mind when it comes to scholarships and paying for college that are related to your question.

FAFSA—Make sure your son files his Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each and every year that he is in college. While this isn’t directly related to scholarship money, this is the only way to see if he qualifies for federal grants, work-study, and student loans. The FAFSA doesn’t take into account high school grades or ACT scores in the same way that some scholarship applications do. For more details about the FAFSA, visit FAFSA.gov. StepUp offers free FAFSA completion open houses throughout the state. Check out our list of events here. Students who attend a FAFSA completion open house are also eligible to enter to win one of our $1,000 FAFSA scholarships: a scholarship just for completing their FAFSA! Make sure your son applies each year that he is in school to make sure he can access that federal financial aid.

Apply for as many private scholarships as possible— There are a lot of private scholarship dollars out there for students who are willing to apply. Consider what your son is interested in and see if there are scholarships that align with his interests. As you mentioned, he was diagnosed with ADHD. It is possible that some organizations might offer scholarships to students who are pursuing higher education that have ADHD.

Reach out to the school—Each school has a different approach to merit and need based scholarships, as well as other institutional aid. I would reach out to the schools that he is interested in attending and ask them about the best way to apply for scholarships and make sure he is eligible. Schools will occasionally require an essay  (or multiple essays) when applying for scholarships. I think this is a good opportunity for your son to mention what happened in his past and how he has worked past it. It sounds like he has worked really hard to overcome some of his challenges. Scholarship committees often look at how students frame their challenges. Also, once he has chosen a major, reach out to that department at the college or university to see what departmental scholarships are available  

Contact the accessibility center once he’s in college—Each college or university usually has an accessibility center to help people with challenges that may impact their academic performance. If he reaches out the accessibility center early and understands what accommodations can be made for him from the start, he will thrive in college. Once he does well in college, he can also be eligible for funds available to continuing students.

I hope I provided you with a little bit of guidance. If you need some more information, please feel free to reach out!


Jacob Newman, Outreach Officer, Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority, 801-366-8487 (office) 801-520-9357 (cell), jnewman@utahsbr.edu, stepuputah.com