WHEATFIELD — After a year of surprises with canceled events and school closures, Kankakee Valley High School senior Kelly Zheng was shocked with “amazing” news on national television March 31.

Zheng was on a Zoom call with 24 other high school seniors that was airing live on ABC’s “Good Morning America” when they were all surprised to learn they each had been awarded a $40,000 scholarship from the College Board, a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity.

“I wasn’t for sure what the Zoom call was about and I had no idea about the scholarship,” said Zheng. “My mouth and eyes were just wide open. It was really an amazing moment and I still can’t believe that it happened.”

Zheng is planning to attend Indiana University in Bloomington to major in nursing.

The 25 students in the Class of 2021 from across the country each earned a $40,000 scholarship toward their education by completing all steps in the College Board Opportunity Scholarships program — steps that help them plan, prepare and pay for college.

“This scholarship is for every student, no matter their background or what school they attend. It’s about giving all students a chance to raise their hands and be seen,” said College Board CEO David Coleman. “These 25 students are as diverse and strong as the country we call home; they come from small towns, cities, and everywhere in between. What unites them is that they have overcome adversity and taken a series of small steps to earn themselves a big future.”

College Board’s BigFuture initiative is designed to encourage every student — no matter their high school — to take small steps to advance themselves, get into college, and receive financial aid. The scholarships are part of BigFuture and give all students a path to follow and a chance to be seen, including those who might not have been sure they were going to college.

Many high school seniors this year had to plan for college during a time of uncertainty as some faced financial hardships and were unable to visit college campuses.

More than 1 million students from all 50 states have joined the College Board Opportunity Scholarships program since it launched in December 2018. Students have won more than $10 million in scholarships.

In addition to the 25 $40,000 Complete Your Journey winners from the class of 2021, nearly 4,000 students from 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands earned $3.6 million in smaller scholarships ranging from $500 to $2,000.

College Board has dedicated $25 million over five years to the program that lays out 6 simple steps all students can take to get to college.

Class of 2022 students who opt-in now and get started by building their college list on BigFuture by June 30 will be eligible for the next $40,000 Complete Your Journey scholarship.

Class of 2022 students who complete the six college planning steps listed below earn six separate chances at $500. Research shows that although these are critical steps students need to take to make it to college, many students don’t take them, limiting their college prospects. This is especially true for low-income and first-generation students. When students finish all six steps, they’ll be entered into the drawing for a $40,000 scholarship.

  1. Build Your College List: St
  2. udents get started by exploring colleges they’re interested in.
  3. Practice for the SAT: Students use Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy to get ready for test day.
  4. Explore Scholarships: Students find scholarships and other aid to help pay for college.
  5. Strengthen Your College List: Students make sure their list has a mix of reach, match, and safety schools.
  6. Complete the FAFSA: Students complete the free government form to apply for financial aid.
  7. Apply to Colleges: Students apply to two or more colleges they want to attend.

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