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As College Tuition Rises,
Scholarships Fill the Financial Aid Gap

(ARA) - In her senior year of high school, Rachel Melson realized that federal financial aid alone wouldn’t be enough to pay for her college education. Seeking more options, she headed to the Internet to search for scholarship opportunities.

“I had two boxes full of [applications] that I sent out,” Melson said. Her hard work paid off. This fall, Melson will enter her freshman year at Florida A&M University with three scholarships totaling $80,000.

With rising college costs, more students are turning to scholarships to supplement their financial aid package. Scholarships are frequently offered by sources such as companies and organizations. In addition, many colleges and universities offer awards exclusively for their students.

Where to Find Scholarships

Like Melson, many students take advantage of free online scholarship databases such as FastWeb.com, the largest scholarship search site on the Internet. Web sites like these match students’ profiles to various scholarships for which they may be eligible.

“It’s a very efficient way to look for aid,” said Patti Cohen, vice president of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. “Scholarship search sites have a staff that is always updating the scholarships. We always encourage students to look online for scholarships.”

Keep in mind that students shouldn’t ever have to pay for a scholarship service. The best and most legitimate scholarship databases are free and available on the Web.

Scholarships can also be as close as city hall. Many community and civic organizations offer college scholarships for students, as do local firefighter and police departments. And don’t forget about cultural institutions, which frequently offer grants to talented aspiring artists.

Eligibility

A widespread myth about scholarships holds that only students with high grades will win. In fact, many of the best scholarship programs are designed for students with talents and interests in fields as diverse as music, community service, science and writing, to name just a few. Frequently, these programs are entirely “grade blind” or use a grade point average strictly as a preliminary cutoff point -- say, a 2.0 minimum GPA.

“We don’t heavily weigh GPA, test scores or other quantitative measures of a student’s ability,” said Dr. Carrie Besnette, program director of the Daniel’s Fund scholarship. “We look past that, at a student’s background, whether they’ve worked . . . and other factors to determine a student’s persistence.”

The key to finding scholarships is to think broadly. What is the student’s college major or field of interest? What are his or her career goals? Is he or she involved in any extracurricular activities, student organizations or volunteer work?

“I [was] enrolled in honors classes, but I knew that there were kids who were going to have higher GPAs than me,” Melson said. “So in every application, I stressed my main goal, which is to give back to my community.”

In addition, a student’s state of residence can open up a number of scholarships. Many state governments offer financial assistance to in-state students, and some scholarships are specific to certain counties or cities.

But don’t stop there. Scholarship seekers should also take inventory of their parents’ background and affiliations. Many companies offer scholarships for the children of employees, as do the military and organizations such as the Elks Association.

Applying for Scholarships

Some students make the mistake of thinking that they maximize their chances of winning by pouring all their energy into one or two scholarships. Applying for scholarships is partially a numbers game -- the more you apply for, the better your odds of winning.

No scholarship is too small. Even a couple hundred dollars can help cover costs like books for a term, a month’s phone bill or that spring break “research” trip to Cancun. In addition, winning smaller awards can enhance a student’s application for a larger scholarship prize.

“You have a better chance to receive a smaller award, and all that money adds up,” Melson said. “If you win a smaller scholarship, use that money to pay for room and board.”

While every scholarship has its own application process, students can save time by gathering materials that are required by many scholarship providers: financial information, including family income and tax forms; SAT or ACT scores; a portfolio of work samples (typically needed for “artistic” scholarships); and a resume with the student’s academic background, extracurricular activities, and work or internship experience (if any).

It’s never too early or late to start a scholarship search. Some organizations award college scholarships as early as junior high school, while others target graduate students or adult returning students.

So don’t be discouraged by the price tag on your dream school. You just might be eligible for a scholarship that can help you foot the bill.

“Scholarships are free money,” Melson said. “There’s money out there for everything, but you have to apply. You have nothing to lose but the cost of a stamp.”

FastWeb is the largest scholarship database site on the Internet. For more information or to sign up, visit www.fastweb.com

Courtesy of ARA Content

 


 

 

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