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Help students find scholarships

Although most student aid comes in the form of federal loans and grants from colleges, almost $3 billion in scholarships is available annually — that's free money for college. Given the number of organizations offering scholarships and the sheer variety of criteria on which these awards are based, motivated students can find and apply for scholarships tailor-made for their skills and interests. Help your students find, apply for and win scholarship money.

Work from the inside out

Students and their families can easily get overwhelmed by the number of scholarship options they find online or in the library. So before looking at what's available, students should first think about who they are and where they're headed.

This personal inventory should include the obvious information such as year in school, citizenship, state of residence, religion, ethnic background, disability, military status, employer (and parents' employers) and membership organizations.

Then encourage your students to dig deeper. Have them write down academic interests, extracurricular activities and career interests. Answering these questions specifically will point your students toward the opportunities that are right for them — and save time and wasted effort by eliminating programs that are not a good fit.

Where to look

School counseling office —Maintain a library of up-to-date books listing scholarships. Keep a folder of brochures and flyers and other scholarship material sent to or collected by you. Take the time to point out suitable scholarships to students when you meet with them about college plans. Keep note of which scholarships former graduates have won — perhaps they'd be willing to talk with current students about how best to apply.

Online — Finding scholarships is fast and free on the right websites, like Scholarship Search. The trick is to avoid sites that promise information about scholarships but deliver anything from spam to outright fraud. Students should be cautioned to never pay for scholarship information. Compile a list of reputable sites for students to visit or conduct a group scholarship search how-to session.

Libraries — Local libraries usually have several books about financial aid and scholarships. Students should ask for help — librarians are resourceful and passionate about connecting people with opportunities. They may even know of local scholarships not listed in the books. In addition, students without Internet access at home can get online at the library. Libraries in local colleges have extensive information about scholarships. Arrange with the college for your students to use its resources for this purpose.

Student Search Service® (SSS®) — For students who take the PSAT/NMSQT® or the SAT®, SSS is a terrific, free way to receive information about scholarships. Most educators know that when students opt in to SSS, they'll receive information from colleges looking for prospective students with their profile. The PSAT/NMSQT is the gateway to some of the most prestigious national scholarships available, such as the National Merit Scholarships. In addition, students whose scores or personal characteristics make them attractive to certain colleges may receive information about scholarships sponsored by those colleges. Learn more about SSS.

Colleges The majority of all scholarship money is disbursed by colleges, so students should look into what scholarships are available at the institutions that interest them. Check out college websites or catalogs and financial aid offices. These awards can be offered on a university-wide basis, or within a particular college or major. Eligibility can be based on a variety of factors including merit, financial need, intended major and ethnicity.

    Organizations — Groups of all types and sizes sponsor scholarships, so students should search scholarships for any characteristic that applies to them or their families: religion, community service, fraternal organizations, military, union membership or professional field.

    Employers — Many large companies offer scholarships or tuition programs for children of employees. Student employers such as fast food chains, department stores and supermarkets often give scholarships.