With the cost of a higher education escalating rapidly, it is important for students to research and apply for millions of dollars in scholarships and grants that are available each year.
Scholarships and grants, or gift aid, are the ideal form of financial aid for students since, unlike loans, they do not have to be repaid. Unfortunately, many students do not bother applying for scholarships because they don't know where to search, they do not believe their grades are good enough, or because the process seems daunting.
In reality, there are many unique scholarships offered by many sources targeting a variety of achievements, interests, and affiliations. Aside from the financial aid office and high school guidance office, the Internet has become a powerful tool in helping students find college scholarships. It should be one of the first places students and parents turn to when searching for scholarships.
Dan Miller, financial aid director at the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, Miss., said he encourages students to search for scholarships online and the school provides a link to a scholarship search site on its Web page.
"Sometimes students don't want to take the time to search for scholarships, because they don't know where to start," Miller said. "The Internet is a good starting place, and it may get students to think about looking locally — where their parents work or went to school — for employee or alumni awards."
When using the Internet to find scholarships, students must be careful, especially if they are considering using a search company to find scholarships.
"We warn students to never pay application fees or processing fees and to be alert to possible scams," Miller said.
Scholarship search companies often charge a fee to locate scholarships for which students are eligible, not to actually apply for them. It is wise to remember that students can perform their own research for free. Also, most reputable foundations and other organizations that award scholarships will not charge an application fee.
Experts also warn to never pay a company that advertises it will find students or parents "guaranteed" scholarship money. No search service can control the decision of a scholarship sponsor. It may be prudent to try to find scholarships on your own first.
For example,websites like Fast Web (www.fastweb.com), FinAid (www.finaid.com), and Adventures In Education (www.AIE.org), provide free scholarship searches. Using search engines such as these, students can look for scholarships based on a number of criteria, including academic and athletic achievements, field of study, ethnic background, religious affiliation, and special interests.
Students using Internet-based scholarship search services are usually asked to complete an online form that asks several questions to determine for which scholarships a student might qualify.
While Miller and his staff encourage students to use the Internet and apply for any number of scholarships for which they qualify, he also offers a little advice.
"We encourage them to look, but not to get too excited until they have submitted all the required essays, applications, and other materials," he said. "There is a lot of effort required to win a scholarship, and the competition is stiff."
For tips on how to establish high expectations for students as early as middle school and for assistance in planning for higher education academically and financially, visit www.AIE.org. TG provides this website has a public service to help all families and students achieve their educational goals and career dreams.
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