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Many independent schools offer scholarships to high achieving students, or to those seen as holding great potential. But what are these schools really looking for?

The Independent Schools Australia website states that 1,169 independent schools across Australia have an enrolment of close to 650,000 students and nearly 23 percent of total high school enrolments nationwide. This is greater in capital cities and talk at the school gate suggests that demand for places is at an all-time high. Why then, would top private schools be offering scholarships, when they are enjoying burgeoning enrolments and long waitlists?

With yearly fees of elite schools climbing ever closer to the nation’s median salary, the market at the top end is still very competitive. With parents contributing the vast majority of schools’ capital funding, attracting full fee paying students from families of means is imperative for the financial health of such schools. 

Such parents will be scrutinising standardised testing results including National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and the Higher School Certificate (HSC). These quantitative measures give confidence to parents that they are gaining value for money. Astute parents are looking for much more and will be considering the myriad co-curricular programs, international opportunities, outdoor education experiences and impressive facilities. Of course, most independent schools will impress.

At the centre of many achievements lauded by school marketing campaigns, reported in newsletters, and on the lips of parents on the sideline at Saturday sport, will be scholarship students. The school has likely added value to all students and those on scholarship may or may not have been high achievers in any case. Still, this paints a picture of why schools are motivated to offer scholarship places to students bound for success.

School websites are often criticised for all being the same; the same claims of achievement and the same marketing speak about educational philosophy. This said, when scratching below the surface as to whether a school’s actions and aspirations really align, you can see what they might be looking for in their scholarship applicants.

Schools with an inspiring vision say they do much more than teach to the test. Great schools deliver on that promise. Such schools are actively designing teaching and learning experiences that are aligned with their vision and philosophy. They are purpose driven in impacting their students and seeing in turn that their students are prepared to impact the world. These schools are dedicated to the professional learning of their staff, they are intentional in creating partnerships with parents, and they know what makes a successful graduate; not just as the student leaves through the school gate, but in the years and decades beyond. These are the conversations of great schools, and these conversations guide the decision making of school leadership, including decisions around scholarships.

Truly great schools – the schools worthy of teaching your child – are looking for scholarship students who will advance the mission and vision of the school. They are searching for students with the potential to achieve great things, but not just in academic testing, on the sporting podium or with eisteddfod results. They are searching for future student leaders who will lead with empathy and compassion. Students who are committed to personal growth and a quest for excellence for themselves and others.

These schools are looking for students who will bring others along with them on their journey, operating in teams, working with integrity and displaying a decent sense of humour too. When considering scholarship applications for your child, ask what the school is really looking for. In this you will see what sort of school it really is. 

For more information on scholarships at The Scots College, visit

The Scots College is a proud member of the following associations.

The Presbyterian Church (New South Wales) Property Trust T/A The Scots College, Sydney Australia
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William Elder


Mr Alan Elder was born in Scotland and migrated to Australia with his parents at a young age. He attended The Scots College for all his schooling, graduating in 1944. He played 1st XI Cricket and was a member of the College Cadet Unit. After leaving school Mr Elder studied accountancy and retained a life-long love of the College, especially the Pipes and Drums. Mr Elder never married, however the significant bequest he left will allow his Scots family to remember him through the Lang Walker Business Centre.