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The Scholarship Search: A Guide


Use the Internet, read widely on scholarships and grants, draw on the experience of friends, talk to your prospective school, and work, work, work.

Mark Twain once quipped, "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow."

Sound advice, except when it comes to tracking down money to finance your college education. If you haven't started, it's time to get going.

The search requires persistence. Use the Internet, read widely on scholarships and grants, draw on the experience of friends, talk to your prospective school, and work, work, work.

"A student needs to be committed to spending a few hours each month to finding five or ten – maybe 15 – scholarships to apply for," says Lori Grandstaff, co-founder of, an online search site. "Don't give up because you didn't win the first ten or even 20. If you continually turn in good applications, you have a chance to come away with scholarship money."

Estimates of the number and value of available scholarships vary, but searches 2.4 million possible awards valued at about $14 billion.

Everyone knows about scholarships awarded on academic performance or financial need, but don't overlook scholarships offered by professional or trade organizations. That includes healthcare, engineering, police, firefighters, education, computer science, social work – you name it. There are scholarships available for specific colleges and universities, including small, liberal arts schools. Check with your parents because many companies offer scholarships to employees' children.

The military offers ROTC scholarships. This is. of course, serious business: Students accepting a three- or four-year scholarship must agree to serve in the military.

There are oddball scholarships, including awards for left-handed students, National Candy Technologists Scholarship, Little People of America, Tall Clubs International and the Klingon Language Institute Scholarship. (No kidding. It's intended to encourage language study. Familiarity with Klingon isn't required.) There are scholarships for graduates of specific high schools.

Don't overlook various contests such as the Ayn Rand Institute Essay Contests, Illustrators of the Future Contest and shamelessly promotional awards such as the Duck Brand Duct Tape Stuck at Prom Contest. The key here is to follow your passion and use your time wisely.

Start your search by punching "Free Application for Federal Student Aid" into your search engine. Read all about it and complete an application online because it's the foundation for much of the financial aid process.

The government-run Web site offers key information about Federal student aid programs.

Pell Grants are typically made to undergraduates and generally don't have to be repaid. The maximum award is $5,350 for the 2009-2010 academic year and is based on financial need, school costs and your status as a full- or part-time student.

Super-smart students should check out National Merit and National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent scholarships. (The acronym is SMART, and some bureaucrat worked hard on that one.) The Academic Competitiveness Grant offers up to $750 for freshman and $1,300 for sophomores.

The U.S. Department of Education's home page offers solid information, including insights on grants and student financial aid.

In addition to, Web sites offering solid information include, and That's just for starters.

The Internet puts key information and applications at your fingertips so there's no reason to pay for a search of available scholarships and grants. There are reputable search firms, but there are also scams. and offer tips on how to avoid scams in your search for financial aid. is a free Web site. The company, founded in 2000, makes money by selling its technology to others and by posting ads on the site.

"Pick a day of the month – say the 13th – and make that your scholarship search day," Grandstaff says. "Nobody can guarantee that a student will win, but I can guarantee to return scholarships that a student might win."

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