A Game Changer for Students and Counselors

03/23/2016 12:07 pm ET Updated Mar 22, 2017

As a high school college advisor in the bustling metropolis of Miami, my daily routine is never a predictable one. With a diverse range of student interests and goals, coming from backgrounds of every race, ethnicity, ability, and socioeconomic status, it is my job to find a way - any way - to move them beyond high school into the intimidating world of college success. The challenge of matching futures with opportunity is the easy part: financing these dreams into reality, however, is the true struggle.

Without a doubt, the most commonly asked question by both students and parents is, "How can I pay for my education?" Despite lists of schools - state schools, dream schools, community colleges, online programs, international schools - the excitement to apply and be accepted is diminished with the reality of cost.

As an advisor, I can forward on every scholarship opportunity in the world and encourage my students to apply for any program they find, but with increasing competition and even higher expectations, it is very difficult to rely on "winning" scholarship money or qualifying for grants amongst a field of so many other competitive applicants.

Diligent students maintain lists of merit-aid requirements, financial aid statistics per school, and can write an application essay on demand, but, ultimately, financing an undergraduate degree under the looming weight of loans easily becomes overwhelming for most and impossible for many.

With the advent of micro-scholarships, however, the game has changed. Previously, students had to hope and pray they would earn any kind of aid, either institutional or private. A financial aid letter, often opened with crossed fingers, could make or break a long-held dream. I noticed a significant change this year, however, as I encouraged students to create Raise.me profiles. The ability to research schools previously unknown to them, and, most importantly, the ability to accrue dollar amounts for grades, classes, and activities that were already a part of their daily lives became addictive.

Students began to visualize futures at schools beyond the norm of their peers with a more accurate depiction of what the costs of attendance might be. Seeing dollar amounts pop up on a student's profile and knowing that it was guaranteed with acceptance removed much of the fear surrounding the unknown of what a financial aid award letter might ultimately hold. Most importantly, it provided the hope that many of our families needed to understand that a college education is truly attainable.

Earning $50 for an A in an Advanced Placement class has both created appreciation for the grade and excitement for the course. Students of all levels now have the means to plan their futures in baby steps, essentially using their high school careers as something of true value. No longer is the cost of college an unknown, intimidating factor: instead, students are able to choose from a wider scope of schools ready to accept - and reward them - for doing their best.