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Researching Scholarships

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Most parents dream that their child will get a scholarship to attend college. Few parents, however, realize what a wide variety of scholarships are available or how to research possible scholarships for which their student might qualify. This brief article provides some basic information and tips to help you learn more about how to locate scholarships for which your child might qualify and how to avoid the inevitable scams.

What sources offer scholarships?

In addition to individual colleges and universities, a wide variety of corporations, community organizations, national organizations, religious organizations, government organizations, and foundations offer scholarships. Beyond scholarships awarded for athletic and academic achievement, the great number of scholarships have been set up to award excellence in particular fields or to provide for special student populations. For example, some scholarship programs recognize excellence in music, visual arts, theater arts, science, or entrepreneurship, just to name a few. Other scholarships may be designated for women, older adults, minorities or other groups. Individual companies may offer scholarships for employees, local community residents, or study in a specific field.

How can you find out about potential sources of scholarships?

Scholarship information is freely available from your high school guidance or counselor's office, local library, college library, college or career school financial aid office, and particularly the Internet. You don't need to pay for help in finding scholarship and financial aid information. Nor do you need to use a fee-based scholarship search service. Many of these so-called scholarship services or seminars are interested only in taking your money, not in helping your student locate and apply for actual scholarships. The Federal Trade Commission has posted useful tips for checking out scholarship search scams.

Can you find scholarships online?

Yes. Conducting an online search is probably the best way to locate scholarships, particularly those offered by groups and institutions other than colleges and universities. An excellent and easy-to-use website, FinAid! provides a guide to Financial Aid including links to several scholarship search sites. College Answer, a web site developed by college loan giant Sallie Mae Inc. to help families prepare for college, also offers a scholarship search function.

How do you apply for scholarships?

First, prospective students and their parents should always complete the scholarship and financial aid applications for each school to which the student has applied. Most college financial aid offices are eager to work with prospective students to help them qualify for scholarships, grants or loans. And you won't know if your child qualifies, if you don't apply.

Next, complete and file the Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA). Although this is an application for federal aid, higher education institutions and other scholarship providers also use the form in considering their awards. You can fill in and submit the form online.

Scholarships unrelated to colleges and universities provide their own instructions for applications. You may be able to request and/or complete application forms online for some programs.

Can you apply for more than one scholarship?

Yes. In fact, you should apply for several scholarships for which your child is qualified. Most scholarships usually only cover a small portion of tuition and fees. So, one scholarship is usually not enough.

How can you recognize scholarship scams?

One of the dangers of an online scholarship search is that you will inevitably run across the scam artists among the reputable sites and services. The FTC advises parents and students to be alert for too-good-to be true offers and promises. If you spot one of these tell-tale lines (or similar ones), don't use that site:

  • "The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back." Nobody can guarantee that you'll receive a scholarship. Sites that make this claim load the fine print with so many conditions that most people never get any money back.
  • "You can't get this information anywhere else." False. Groups that award scholarships make their information readily available to all.
  • "I just need your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship." Never, ever give out your credit card or bank account number. This request is simply a ploy to steal money from your account.
  • "We'll do all the work." Nonsense. The student applying for the loan and his or her family must properly complete applications at the very least.
  • "The scholarship will cost some money." No real scholarship requires the recipient to pay any fees.
  • "You've been selected" by a "national foundation" to receive a scholarship — or "You're a finalist" in a contest you never entered.

Reviewed and updated January 2013

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