Most people know that the kid at the top of the class has a good chance of getting a free ride to college in the form of an academic scholarship. But what about the students not in the top 10 percent of their high school class? The good news is there are thousands of dollars in scholarship money available for those who aren't among the academic elite.
"It's definitely a myth that you need to be the valedictorian or an Albert Einstein to win a scholarship," says Gen Tenabe, co-author of "Get Free Cash for College."
"A lot of students who don't have perfect GPAs (grade point averages) or high GPAs don't even bother looking because they feel, 'My grades are low, I'm not someone these scholarship organizations are going to want to give money to.' And that's not true."
What is true is that many organizations that offer scholarship money are looking for criteria other than grades, such as athleticism, talents, goals, community service, ethnicity and career interests. By figuring out what qualities make your children unique, you can often glean an idea of what types of scholarships may be available to them.
One of the first places you should look for scholarship money is in your own backyard. Your child's guidance counselor and the local librarian could be two sources to start your search. Also, tell everyone you know that you're looking for scholarship money. Someone may know about scholarships being offered by churches, local businesses and even local alumni groups.
"There are a lot of community organizations and local service groups that raise money throughout the year, and one of the things that they do with this money is they give it to students from their community who are going to college," says Tenabe. Check with these organizations to determine their scholarship criteria and the deadlines to get your application in.
Another place to look is your employer. Many companies offer scholarship money to children of employees. If your child has a part-time job, check that company for scholarship opportunities as well.
Local chapters of business and professional organizations often offer scholarships to students who have an interest in that particular field. For example, if your son or daughter wants to be a lawyer, check with the local bar association. It's OK if your child ultimately doesn't become a lawyer. An interest in the field is often enough to be considered.
Civil rights organizations may also be a good place to check, since they often award scholarships to students who are members of a particular race, ethnic group or gender.
Try researching the communities where your child wants to go to college.
"There might be organizations in the town where your child will be studying that are offering scholarships, too," says Martha Holler, a spokeswoman for Sallie Mae.
The colleges being considered by your child might also offer scholarships that are based on criteria other than academics. When checking with colleges, go beyond the admissions office.