college

Scholarships for average Joes

"A lot of the college-based scholarships are not necessarily given out by the admissions office, but rather the department where you're going to spend most of your academic life," says Tenabe. "There's nothing wrong with, if you think you're going to be an English major, sending an e-mail to the English department, asking: 'I'm an incoming student and I think I'm going to be an English major. What kinds of scholarships do you have available?'"

The Internet offers a wealth of information, including a number of scholarship databases, such as CollegeBoard.com, Sallie Mae's database and the one on Tenabe's college money-saving Web site, SuperCollege.com. Such sites help you find scholarships geared toward students of particular races and ethnic backgrounds, students with special interests and students with special talents.

For example, one scholarship found in Sallie Mae's database, the Patrick Kerr Skateboarding Scholarship, offers a $5,000 award to a student who skateboards.

When searching for scholarship databases, avoid any that ask you to pay. "To pay for scholarship information runs counter to the original purpose," says Holler. "This is free money, and you shouldn't have to pay to find it."

There also are scholarship scams out there. Beware of scholarships from organizations you can't research adequately. Be wary of those that guarantee a scholarship before you've even applied. Don't give out your personal information until you have checked out the organization and are satisfied that it is on the level.

There is no best time to look for scholarships, as new ones are added all year. Check databases frequently to find any new additions that you may be eligible for.

Scholarship awards come in all sizes and amounts. "Some people will eliminate a scholarship because it's a small amount," says Holler. "But several $250 to $500 scholarships add up very quickly, and it can make a real difference in terms of reducing the out-of-pocket cost of college."

However, if your child does not meet all of the criteria of the scholarship, don't think the scholarship selection committee won't notice. "If you have three of the five criteria, I would save yourself time and save them time as well," says Holler. "Your time would be better spent applying for the scholarships for which you are qualified."

The bottom line is if you take the time to do your research and plan for college in advance, you'll find that academics are not the only criteria that are highly valued in the world, Tenabe says. "Most scholarships, in fact, look at a lot of other things besides your grades."

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