Brenda High is an Educational Consultant, College, Career, and Scholarship Readiness Coach. High is the founder of ScholarShopMom. Her mission is to assist students in finding a career path and educating parents on how to help their children obtain a debt-free education. High conducts workshops for parents and students from elementary to high school with the tools to put them in the best position to acquire money for trade school or college.
TG: What is your background?
BH: For the past 30 years, I have worked as a teacher, college advisor, and educational consultant. I have spent most of my time consulting with high school and college students. I received a full-ride scholarship when I graduated from high school. I’m from upstate New York where I attended Mount St. Mary College. That was my first experience getting scholarships. I was a studious student and the bookworm in the family. My mother was a widow with six children. I knew she didn’t have any money to pay for me to go to school. I was one of those students that focused on trying to do well academically.
I majored in social studies. I wanted to be a teacher because I love to teach. I had good teachers, and I knew I wanted to help people. I was teaching for a while in California and went back to school to get my master’s degree at California State University, Los Angeles. The program that appealed to me was Community College Counseling, with a focus on Vocational and Career Counseling. When I moved to Illinois, I worked at a school district as a consultant. The same school district that my children attended. I was that parent who was very involved. There were a lot of African American students who were doing well academically but not getting scholarship opportunities. My child was in that group. I was that parent who was in the guidance office going through the files trying to find scholarships. I worked at Rich Township School District and other school districts doing after school college prep programs and parent engagement workshops for six years. Helping parents understand what they need to do to help their children.
My first love is career counseling. When students come to me, the first thing I help them do is to document their interests and clarify their career goals. That’s very important. I’m a Certified Global Career Development Facilitator, which is through the National Career Development Association. I also conduct professional development workshops. My vision for ScholarShopMom is a world where students can pursue their post-secondary education debt-free and provide scholarship resources for low-income and disadvantaged students. Too many students are not prepared to apply for a scholarship and do not know what they need to do in high school to get themselves ready. There are certain things they need to do. Students must do community service and have a 3.0 GPA or higher. The higher the GPA, the more options you have for money. That’s the goal.
Because of COVID, some colleges are becoming test-optional, meaning students don’t have to take a standardized test. If they are not doing standardize tests, colleges will be looking at what you have done in high school. I match scholarships to what students can bring to the table.
TG: What inspired you to help parents with children to prepare for college?
BH: What inspired me was my own personal journey. I start my workshops by telling my story. When I moved to Maryland, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn’t have children of my own. My sister wanted me to care for her two sons to raise. One of her sons had a physical and learning disability. He had cerebral palsy. I had a sense of urgency because my husband and I didn’t have a college fund set up. I had a conversation with my nephews that if they do well in middle and high school, it will build a foundation for them to get scholarships. That is an important conversation to have with your children.
I find that young people don’t value their education as they should. Internalized value is missing. They don’t understand the connection between why they are taking math and what it will do for them. My nephew, who has cerebral palsy, is a fighter. He didn’t want any special attention. His talent was writing. He watched the movie “My Left Foot.” It’s a true story about a man who has cerebral palsy and how he overcame it. When my nephew saw that movie, it inspired him. It made him want to be a screenwriter. He was a Gate’s Scholar and received a full ride to attend the University of Southern California. My other nephew received a full-ride scholarship as well.
I got a call from a superintendent to set up a program to help students research scholarships. There was no support for students to help them with scholarships. I stayed after school, assisting different schools in the district. It became overwhelming because I was getting several phone calls. I had to do something to get the message out, so I started a blog answering questions for students and parents about scholarships. I provided resources and information on my blog in a way that was not overwhelming but to the point. I tried to fill in the gaps that students and parents might not be able to get from the school counselor. My goal was to engage more parents.
TG: Did you have guidance when you applied for college?
BH: When I went to school, I had guidance in academic counseling, but not career counseling. When I was growing up, the main career goals were to be a teacher, lawyer, doctor, fireman, or policeman. I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I chose my career on what I had an A in. I got an A in History and Spanish. The college I went to didn’t have a Spanish major, so I defaulted to History. I realized that was not the right way to choose a major. We need more certified career counselors in our schools to help prepare students to compete for 21st century careers.
TG: How vital are high school counselors to help assist students in making academic and career goals? Do you feel counselors are doing enough?
BH: High school counselors are very vital in their roles. The problem I see is that they are overwhelmed. Too many have huge caseloads. They have a lot on their plate. I do professional development with the counselors. I know several counselors and their frustrations and what they are going through. Counselors do not have time to do scholarships and financial aid workshops. They are not trained for that. I interact with students from across the country. The biggest complaint I get from students is the inability to get access to their counselor. Far too many have to wait weeks to meet with their counselor. Many are not available after school.
Some students are too counselor dependent. They wait for the counselor to tell them things they can research on their own. On the other hand, counselors and parents are telling students to apply for scholarships but not telling them how to do it. Students and counselors must build a relationship and communicate.
TG: When should high school students prepare for college?
BH: Preparation for college or career ideally should begin in kindergarten. K-3 are important years for building foundational skills particularly in reading and math. We have too many students going into high school behind in reading and math which can create barriers for college preparation and access. Otherwise, students should begin preparation when they are in 8th grade. A lot of high schools focus on the junior or senior year. I’m doing workshops with elementary and middle school students where I teach them what a GPA is.
It’s important to plant the seed early, so they know what the expectation is so when they get to high school, the student already knows what to do. I feel that’s where the preparation for college needs to start. By the time the 8th grader enters high school, they should already know what their interests are, what they like and what they don’t like. If an 8th grader wants to be an engineer, does the high school they plan to attend have an engineering or robotics club. They should select extracurricular activities based on interest.
They also need to start doing community service in freshman year and not wait until their junior or senior year. Colleges accept students for 9th, 10th, and 11th grade work. It’s important for students to do well academically and be involved during these 3 years. I tell the students when they start their freshman year, they start with a 4.0 GPA. It is their responsibility to maintain it. Their goal should be to maintain a minimum of 3.0 for the most scholarship opportunities.
TG: What workshops do you provide for college preparation?
BH: I provide the following college preparation workshops: Post-Secondary Options, The College Search, Scholarship Tips and Strategies, How to Obtain a Debt-Free Education, The College, and Scholarship Essay, Financial Aid Literacy and Career Exploration and Assessment.
TG: What are the most common mistakes parents and students make when applying for scholarships.
BH: The most common mistake is making sure parents and students understand what the college or scholarship essay is asking for when applying for scholarships. Do they understand the question? Don’t make assumptions. If the requirement is to write a 500-word essay, that’s the requirement. It’s important to follow instructions and make sure you have what you need to apply, i.e., letters of recommendation, transcripts. It’s also important that they have someone else review their essay before sending it out. Applying for scholarships is a part-time job. The hardest part is writing the first scholarship. When they get the first or second scholarship done, it’s easy because colleges and scholarship organizations have similar requirements.
TG: What advice would you give to students and parents who don’t know where to start when apply for college?
BH: The best place to start is the student’s Counseling Department and the high school website. Find out what workshops and meetings are available for parents and students to attend and make a point to attend. They should also review the college websites they feel are a good academic and financial fit. The parent’s role is being the facilitator. They need to stay involved in the process and make sure their child meets deadlines.
To learn more about how to obtain scholarship, college, and career resources, go to ScholarShopMom https://www.scholarshopmom.org/.
Tammy Gibson is a black history traveler and author. Find her on social media @SankofaTravelher.