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Go for the Gold and gain a competitive edge

For as long as I can remember, the SAT and ACT scores were the most widely used and accepted admissions criteria for colleges and universities nationwide. While I might be dating myself, my SAT score arrived by mail in an official envelope with a perforated tear on one side. It was at that moment — when I opened the envelope — flanked by my parents, that my college future was decided. Based on each institution’s published average SAT and ACT scores, I knew which colleges and universities remained an option for me and which ones fell off my list. It was a defining moment for me, as I’m sure many others who received a similar envelope in high school.

Today, with many colleges moving away from requiring the SAT, ACT or other standardized tests — and even more in light of the pandemic and the shift to virtual classrooms — many students, parents and educators are trying to figure out what’s next and what will replace these longstanding admissions tests. Students may ask — how will I distinguish myself to the admissions team of the college I want to attend? Parents will ask — in what classes, programs or extracurricular activities should I encourage my children to participate? And, educators will most certainly question — what criteria should we use to evaluate students for college admissions and what systems do we need to institute to ensure the process is consistent and fair?

This is unchartered territory for all of us, and I can only speculate it will be a road with many twists and turns along the way. With this inevitable winding road, however, there is an opportunity available to all high school girls across the country to shine and stand out by earning a credential that will impress even the most critical college admissions teams. It’s a time-tested, 100-plus year-old leadership program that has readied almost one million girls to compete for acceptance into the colleges of their choice and provided a solid foundation for their post-graduate careers and academic and business endeavors. It’s the Gold Award — the most prestigious award in Girl Scouts. Steeped in tradition and integrity, it dates back to the first years of the Girl Scout movement more than a century ago.

This award is difficult to earn and the process is rigorous, but it pays off. The steps are clear — identify an issue; investigate it thoroughly; create and present a plan; gather feedback; craft a budget; secure funding; take action; and educate and inspire. There is even a press kit that helps winners share their stories with the media. The projects are always thoughtful and impressive and usually tackle or address an issue near and dear to a girl’s heart. Recent Gold Award winners in Central and Northeast Pennsylvania took on such challenges as diversity and inclusion, bees and the environment, refugees and literacy, and STEM education for girls.

In our Girl Scout council, 50 Girl Scouts completed the program, and we had three Gold Award recipients who received a total of $8,000 in scholarships. One of the winners organized an art-themed day camp for young children with special needs; another developed a project addressing teen depression and suicide; and another created a reading corner at a local elementary school to help underprivileged children develop stronger reading and writing skills.

These are girls I want on my team. They are confident leaders. They are creative problem solvers. They are committed to making a sustainable difference. They take action and get results in our communities. These girls are our future. They are, quite simply, remarkable.

For girls considering a career in the military, Gold Award Girl Scouts are also entitled to enlist at a higher pay grade. Additionally, many colleges award scholarships to Gold Award Girl Scouts.

With the sea change in the world of college admissions and standardized tests, the Girl Scout Gold Award is a steady and time-tested program – unchanged in its mission of challenging and rewarding girls who demonstrate a higher commitment to improving their communities and advocating for lasting change.

Whether you are a student, parent or educator, I encourage everyone to learn more about the Gold Award by visiting any Girl Scout website across the country.

Gone are the days when a single entrance exam score determines a promising student’s future. Now students can take charge of their future by making a mark on their community and setting their sights on the Gold Award.

The Gold Award is the mark of the truly remarkable.

Janet Donovan, a retired two-star rear admiral and former deputy commander in the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy, is CEO and president of Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania.

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