Scholarship Secrets

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Stressed about college costs? Don’t panic—scholarship money is out there, you’ve just got to know where to find it. Here’s how to start your search.

Let’s face it: college is expensive. Maybe your parents can help, or maybe you have a piggy bank full of savings waiting to be hammered open. If you’re an exceptionally talented scholar, athlete, or artist, you might get a free ride.

But if you’re like most of us, you’ll need to borrow money to pay the bill, so the more scholarships you can find, the better. Here are 10 tips to help make college as affordable as possible—with free money!

Get guidance

There’s a whole office in your high school designed just for this purpose. Ask your guidance counselors for help looking for scholarships. They’re experts, they’ve been doing it for years, and they really want to help you go to college.

Fill out forms

If a magazine shows up in your mailbox or at the school library, and a registration card falls out, fill it out and send it in. It doesn’t hurt to get your information out there. Some scholarships are based on random drawings, and someone has to win—it might as well be you!

Take your search online

Scholarship searching is a big industry, and there are websites that will match you up with scholarships you have a chance at winning. Signing up is usually free, and the results are instantaneous. All you have to do is write the essay, fill out the questionnaire, or otherwise prove how deserving you are. Check out FastWeb.com, Xap.com, and SchoolSoup.com, just for starters. Simply searching for “scholarships” on your web browser will turn up many more sites you’ll probably find helpful.

Ask your parents

Parents, friends, and other family members might work for a company or belong to a club that offers scholarships to talented (or just plain smart for inquiring) people like you. Spread the word that you’re looking for scholarships. Some scholarships go years without recipients simply because the organization doesn’t have the budget to advertise it, and no one has applied.

List your interests

If you have a particular interest or passion, Google “_______ scholarship.” You might be surprised at what you find when you fill in the blank with “knitting,” “dirt bikes,” or “Star Trek.”

Flaunt your uniqueness

Are you left-handed? A member of a minority? Wiccan? Do you practice some other religion? Are you a nudist, or really tall (or both)? There’s a scholarship out there for just about every talent and characteristic—there’s even a scholarship available only to people with the last name “Van Valkenburg!” It’s just a matter of finding them.

Do something crazy

Dare to try something really different, like going to your prom dressed entirely in duct tape or entering a duck-calling contest. You can also win a scholarship for winning a quiz contest about the FBI, perfecting an apple pie recipe, or for being chosen to represent the beef industry.

Choose your major

Plenty of freshmen have no idea what they want to study, but declaring a major early can have its rewards. Many scholarships are designed for students with a particular major in mind or already in progress. Seek out scholarships for whatever your interests are, and maybe the process will even help you decide what to study.

Write right

Writing’s not your strong suit? No worries. Get your hands on a book that will help you learn how to write what scholarship-givers want to read. You’ll find plenty at the library or the mega-bookstore down the street. Your guidance counselor might also have helpful resources. Don’t forget to have your friends, parents, and teachers read your essays. Consider their suggestions, and go from there.

Do it the old-fashioned way

Go to the library and ask the resource librarian for help. He or she will probably point you to one very large book. There are all sorts of books about scholarships, and they’re all fairly similar (read: “overwhelming”), but you just might find a gem in there. Also, consider calling local organizations to see if they have anything to offer. (You won’t look desperate; you’ll just look smart when you’re paying less for college!)

The idea is to go in many different directions. Sure, go ahead and apply for the big national scholarships, but don’t forget about the lesser-known, oddball scholarships—they can really add up, and the competition is much less intense.

With creativity, persistence, and a little luck, when you graduate and start your career, you can spend your money on better things than loan payments. Your right-handed, non-nudist friends will be jealous!

Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »

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