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Books, Web Sites Aid Scholarship Search

July 30, 1998| From Reuters

WASHINGTON — There are more than 275,000 scholarship, grant and award programs just waiting to fling billions of dollars at cash-starved college students, but finding that money is neither easy nor effortless.

High school seniors may be tempted by everything from Coca-Cola scholarships for college-bound students to targeted awards for athletes, church members, specific majors or residents of certain counties, and in this book-and-a-Web-site-for-everything era, it's not hard to find those awards listed.

What's harder is finding the right ones to apply for and deciding how much effort to put into it.

Madeline Strum from St. Charles, Ill., for example, won a $2,000 scholarship from the Chicago Bulls for an essay she wrote on how she would use her college education to help her community. But she says she spent the better part of her senior year applying for about 30 scholarships and writing their essays, after wasting $130 on a scholarship search service that proved worthless.

Nevertheless, somebody gets those awards and a serious, targeted search can result in funding that means the difference between a student attending his or her first-choice college or a cheaper school.

Adds Mark Rothschild, director of scholarship services for Student Services, a firm that publishes awards directories, a serious bout of essay writing can prepare a student for college applications.

To make the most of a scholarship search while wasting the least amount of time and money, here are some suggestions.

* First, apply for state, federal and college financial aid when you send in your college applications or shortly thereafter. This is where the bulk of the money is handed out, and most schools accept the federal financial aid form or the private school profile form. Some private awards are dependent upon other aid being awarded or at least on these forms being completed, so make this step one.

* Don't pay a scholarship search company to find scholarships for you. Instead, find them yourself online and in books.

One of the best online sites is http://www.fastweb.com, by Student Services. It lists more than 400,000 scholarships and will sort them for you. This Web site takes and stores a comprehensive student profile and then finds awards that match. (Competitors carp that the site's sponsors are selling their mailing lists, so be prepared for a pickup in junk mail once you register.) A slew of similar but less comprehensive sites can be found at http://www.finaid.com/finaid/awards.html.

The best load-in-your-computer software solution is Scholarships 101, a program by Pinnacle Peak Solutions ([800] 762-7101) that lets you browse and sort through more than 600,000 awards and automate your letter-writing campaign. It's available for $56.95, with a new version due Aug. 15.

As for books, there are guides published by all of the usual suspects of higher education publishing, most at around $25: the College Board; the Princeton Review; Peterson's; Prentice Hall; and Sourcebooks Inc., which publishes Rothschild's book, "The Complete Scholarship Book."

* Look for awards that are specialized or smaller. Coca-Cola gives thousands of dollars to students with high grade-point averages, but receives 842 applications for every scholarship it awards. The National Hispanic Scholarship Fund, in contrast, awards money to one out of three applicants. Local awards and tightly focused programs may offer better opportunities.

* Recognize that scholarships can cut the financial aid you receive from the school of your choice, but don't let that stop you. If that gift replaces a loan, it can be well worth the effort.

* Think about the time you're putting into the scholarship effort. A $6-an-hour job can net $2,000 in a year of working seven hours a week, and you won't have to write essays.

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