The best educators often look for ways to help academically talented but financially needy students realize their potential. Telling such students about the Young Scholars Program, sponsored by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation of Lansdowne, Virginia, is one way to assist them. The program helps bright and motivated but financially strapped seventh-graders with scholarship aid, academic advice and much more. We asked Alan Royal, senior program manager of outreach and partnerships at the Cooke foundation, to share information about the Young Scholars Program:

Q: Tell us about the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, its mission and your role with the foundation.

A: The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is a national grants and scholarships provider dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Since 2000, the foundation has awarded $190 million in scholarships to nearly 2,500 students from eighth grade through graduate school and provided more than $100 million in grants to organizations that serve high-achieving students with financial need.

As senior program manager of outreach and partnerships, I help oversee outreach initiatives and partnerships for the foundation’s College Scholarship Program, Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship and Young Scholars Program, and I also help oversee the scholar selection process.

Photo of Alan Royal

Q: What is the aim of the Young Scholars program? When and why was it created, and how many students has it served?

A: The Cooke Young Scholars Program is a selective five-year, pre-college scholarship for high-performing seventh-grade students with financial need. The program was established in 2001 and has currently served more than 900 students.

The aim of the program is to help connect high-achieving students who have financial need and might be isolated from appropriately rigorous academic environments to resources, enrichment opportunities and advising support that enable them to continue developing their academic and artistic talents.

Q: What must a student do to apply for a scholarship? What are you looking for in an applicant?

A: To apply, a student must currently be in seventh grade, have earned all or mostly A’s in school since the beginning of sixth grade and demonstrate unmet financial need. The foundation considers applicants with an annual family income up to $95,000.

Strong applicants will be able to demonstrate strength in each of the program’s selection criteria, including academic achievement, persistence, leadership and service to others. They show these traits in their application by submitting report cards, test-score reports, essay writing and recommendations from teachers, counselors, coaches, etc.

Ideal applicants also have an enthusiasm for joining a community of active and engaged peers who are excited about learning and are open to collaborating with an adviser who will help guide some of their educational decisions.

Q: Those who are picked for the award, what will they receive?

A: The Young Scholars Program provides comprehensive academic and college advising from eighth through 12th grade, as well as financial support for school, summer programs, internships and other learning-enrichment opportunities throughout high school.

The advising component of the program includes identifying an appropriately rigorous high school, engaging in four-year planning and goal-setting, facilitating year-round Young Scholar community programming and later guiding the college application process.

Some additional examples of financial support from the scholarship might include online courses, educational software and hardware, and music or art lessons.

Q: Is there support provided to winners in the long-term?

A: As long as Cooke Young Scholars remain in good standing with the program, which essentially means collaborating with their adviser, engaging with the scholar community and maintaining a strong academic record, scholarship support continues until high school graduation.

Young Scholars are also eligible to apply for the Cooke College Scholarship Program during the fall of their senior year, which awards up to $40,000 per year for four years. More than 90 percent of Young Scholars have also received the college scholarship.

Q: Can you briefly tell us about a few of the winners whose stories touched you?

A: I was fortunate to have been a Young Scholar educational adviser for 5 1/2 years prior to transitioning into the outreach role, so I could mention many Young Scholars with impressive and inspiring stories and amazing accomplishments.

For me personally, during those years I was able to advise four scholars from New Orleans who each had a phenomenal personal story, from surviving Hurricane Katrina and overcoming seemingly insurmountable environmental challenges while achieving at the highest levels academically.

It’s been deeply touching to see them persist toward accomplishing their goals in spite of obstacles and be able to take advantage of the foundation’s support. I still keep in touch with them and many other scholars I was privileged to work with, and they’re all doing extremely well today.

For those interested in learning more about the accomplishments of some of the Cooke Foundation’s successful Cooke Young Scholars, William Tarpeh (scholar bio and Forbes 30 Under 30 in Science) and Qian Qian Tang (scholar bio) are two amazing examples!

Q: When is the deadline for this year’s applications? How can students find out more about the program, and how can they apply?

A: The 2019 Young Scholars Program application is open until March 14. Applicants must submit all application materials by noon EST. The online application and all important information about the application process and program experience are accessible at www.jkcf.org/ysp.

There are a variety of cool resources available to view at this page as well, from scholar profiles to webinars, and I encourage anyone seeking more information to check out them all.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about this program?

A: I believe the Young Scholars Program is a potentially life-altering opportunity. For talented, high-achieving seventh-graders who have a special spark for learning and a drive to excel, I’d encourage them to seriously consider applying.

Though it’s a selective program, I also believe the process of completing an application like this as a seventh-grader is a valuable experience that any serious student will learn and benefit from.

Give yourself the chance to see how far you can go by applying!


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