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It may only be the first week back for many Northwest Indiana schools, but it’s never too early to start planning ahead for college.

That’s the message Indiana University Northwest officials hope to send with their announcement of a new partnership with a growing online micro-scholarship platform called RaiseMe.

IUN joins Valparaiso University in the Region as one of more than 300 colleges and universities nationwide offering incremental financial support for participation in student activities, campus visits and even certain classes.

“RaiseMe offers an encouragement to continue to work hard through high school,” IUN Admissions Counselor Candace Rayburn said. “We loved that idea.”

The service is free to students and is funded through grants and a fee charged to participating universities, RaiseMe representatives said. Specific scholarship funds are offered through universities.

High school freshman through seniors can go to www.raise.me or download the company’s mobile application via Apple’s App Store to log activities like community service, honors classes, test scores and more in the website’s user portfolio.

The website then matches students with participating schools and scholarship opportunities based on their school activities and engagement.

High schoolers can also select to follow colleges and universities from a list of participating institutions to stay updated on individualized scholarship offerings.

The micro scholarships start small. For example, at IUN, a year of perfect attendance could earn students $67, participation in the National Honor Society could net $100 in scholarships, and completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA could equal $400.

But over time, those small scholarships can add up. Individual students receive, on average, $22,000 through the platform, according to RaiseMe.

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More than 500 high schools and 750 educators are already using the platform in Indiana. More than 50,000 Hoosier students and 2 million students nationwide have used the program.

RaiseMe representatives say the concept, first launched in 2014, was developed to help students, especially low-income or first generation college students, realize earlier in their high school career that college can be within reach.

“RaiseMe flips the script,” said Frank Summerlin, a RaiseMe district partnerships manager for Indiana. “We’re not rewarding future achievement but rewarding students for what they’re already doing.”

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High schoolers can start logging activities and achievements as early as the beginning of freshman year up to senior year, when students have the opportunity to retroactively post entries for their earlier academic career.

“Because the students are able to start earning the scholarship dollars early in their high school career, it makes it tangible,” Rayburn said. “If they’re getting a reward from it starting in the ninth grade, they can see that tangible award.”

While IUN and VU are among the first Region-area schools to join RaiseMe, a number of other Indiana schools including IU Bloomington, DePauw University and IU-Purdue University Indianapolis partner with the program.

The online scholarships platform is also working to grow partnerships with two-year schools and community colleges like Ivy Tech to log activities and achievements for transfer students.

“We really want to be able to support all students from all walks of life,” said Cecilia Xia, of RaiseMe’s communications team.

IUN will begin offering RaiseMe scholarships with the high school graduating class of 2020. Incoming IUN students do not have to sign up for RaiseMe to receive merit-based scholarships, but Rayburn said she recommends it because IUN’s only requirement for awarding RaiseMe micro scholarships is GPA-based. Performance results on standardized entrance exams like the SAT and ACT is not needed.

For those interested in RaiseMe scholarships offered through IUN, high school seniors must meet a minimum 3.0 GPA and complete their RaiseMe profile by Nov. 15.

Other Indiana schools participating in RaiseMe include: Grace College, Huntington University, IU-Purdue University Columbus, Indiana Tech, IU Fort Wayne, IU South Bend, Indiana Wesleyan University, Oakland City University, Trine University and the University of Evansville; as well as nearby Columbia College Chicago, Elmhurst College, Olivet Nazarene University and the University of Chicago in Illinois.

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