South Carolina's college-bound high school students have a new reason to focus on their grade point average starting in the 9th grade: Real money is on the line.
Five colleges and universities in the state have entered partnerships with Raise.Me, an online platform started in 2014 that lets students accrue "micro-scholarships" as they work their way through high school.
Clemson University, Coastal Carolina University, Presbyterian College, the University of South Carolina and Winthrop University are offering some students the chance to earn scholarships for academic and extracurricular achievements.
Dollar amounts run the gamut. For example, a current student at Baptist Hill High in Charleston County who earns an A in a single core course could receive $20 in scholarship money at Coastal Carolina University, $30 at the University of South Carolina, $50 at Winthrop University or $600 at Presbyterian College, according to the website.
Any student can create a profile on the site and enter their achievements to see what they would earn at more than 265 colleges around the country.
The scholarship awards vary depending on a student's high school and the college. The colleges also have different requirements for admission, limits on scholarship awards, and minimum standards for keeping the scholarships once enrolled.
The colleges also have some unique categories: Coastal Carolina gives money to Eagle Scouts; Winthrop pays for community service; and Presbyterian offers scholarship money just for visiting the campus. Students can also earn scholarships for participating in sports and for working jobs to support their family.
According to Raise.Me Director of College Partnerships Katie Mooney, 7,200 current high school students in South Carolina have created profiles. She did not have a running total of scholarship money earned, but she said students who use the platform nationwide earn an average of $22,500 in scholarships wherever they attend.
Clemson and USC, the state's two largest universities, have both limited their Raise.Me offerings to only about 50 partner high schools, focusing on areas with lower household income and few students attending the universities.
USC picked many of the schools from the Interstate 95 corridor and from the communities surrounding the university's Columbia campus. USC also caps Raise.Me awards at $2,000 per student, although students may qualify for other scholarships once accepted.
USC launched its partnership midway through the fall 2016 semester, and its applications already are up 37 percent from the target high schools, according to Scott Verzyl, dean of undergraduate admissions.
The university had 107 students enroll from those schools this fall, up 12 percent from the previous year.
"It’s a way to give students scholarships, but more importantly, it’s a way to encourage students — particularly from communities where there’s not a college-going culture — to know that colleges are interested in them," Verzyl said.
"They (the colleges) are committed to finding ways to provide financial support and reward them for doing the right kinds of things in high school."