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Site Seer: Whither money for school?

June 6, 1997
Web posted at: 3:13 p.m. EDT (1913 GMT)

From CNN Interactive Writer Kristin Lemmerman

(CNN) -- Common wisdom has it that millions of dollars in scholarship money go unused each year because nobody knows the money is available. If you're getting ready to go to school and you aren't independently wealthy, that untapped funding can become a sort of Holy Grail as you try to discover whether you might qualify for assistance because you're an aspiring playwright, the child of an Avon salesperson, or the descendant of a Native American tribe.

But the Federal Trade Commission says most scholarship funds do not go unused; in fact, the myth that millions of dollars is available for the asking has become the subject of numerous scams. In your search for the elusive scholarship dollar, plenty of companies may try to take advantage of you, charging fees to send you lists of scholarships for which you may or may not qualify. If you want to order those lists, go ahead -- but that isn't the point of this Site Seer. You can do the work yourself, and save your 50 bucks for next semester's books. Unused or not, scholarship money is out there, and you certainly won't get any if you don't apply.

FinAid site

If you only check one place on the Internet, go to FinAid. This site lists several scholarship search engines; lists of available grants and loans and how to apply; and also includes a list of "special interest" categories that might help you track down alternate sources of funding. The special interest categories include women, minorities and the disabled -- all of which are target groups for educational institutions because they are typically underrepresented in the ranks of higher education.

The FinAid site also offers several different financial aid calculators, including one to help you figure out your Estimated Family Contribution, or EFC. The paperwork to apply for federal loans is contingent upon your EFC, and although the calculator isn't guaranteed to figure out the figures to the T, its calculation can be a helpful guide to whether it's even worth it for you to plow through the excruciatingly detailed federal aid forms. As if all this weren't already enough to make the FinAid site a winner, there's also a Scam Alert, an Ask the Aid Advisor column and a FAQ file. All in all, if you've got a question about financial aid, you'll likely find the answer here.

Among the scholarship search engines, fastweb is one of the best. fastweb finds scholarship programs based on information you enter about your interests, experiences and family background. It's the same information you would give to a scholarship search service, but in this case, the search is free.

Fast web site

One of the cooler features on this site is its capacity to set you up with your own individual mailbox, password-protected, which is updated daily with any new scholarships or grants that have become available in your areas of interest. New grants are added to the original list of grants and scholarships; each item remains on the list until the application date expires.

Meanwhile, if you decide that you need to change the personal data your original search was based upon, you can do that from your mailbox. If you expressed an interest in specific schools, you can jump to their Web sites from a link in your mailbox. And if fastweb finds anything else in its archives that might interest you, it will provide a link in your mailbox as well. For example, fastweb keyed in on the fact that I identified myself as female in my test search, so in my mailbox, I found a link to a story on the 100 best companies for working women in 1997. (You might say there's nothing like early planning to chart a successful postgraduate career.)

College Edge site

On the other hand, you may feel it's a little early to be worrying about postgraduate employment -- especially since right now, you can't even settle on a major. College Edge is designed to help you figure out what college to attend, what major or majors to elect, and, of course, how to pay for everything. You may not get anything detailed enough to nail down your decisions, but then who said that all your choices should be solvable with a mail-in form? Rather, this site gives you enough information so that you can go on from here to ask intelligent questions later.

Among the site's special features are a set of forums (registration is required but free). Topics range from prospects for various careers to dealing with college life; there's also a section on financial aid and scholarships. A section set up for parents to talk about their college-bound kids is best described as 'slow-traffic' at this point.

Sallie Mae site

And finally, the mother of all federal loans, Sallie Mae, has a Web site which lays out all the basic concerns of finding financial aid, whether you qualify as a "need-based" student or not. The site includes a practical guide to planning ahead for getting accepted to the college you want and paying for it, starting with actions you should take in your freshman year of high school, if you can.

A quiz helps you chart your financial savvy, and a series of worksheets are available to help you develop a budget for college and stick to it. There are also several calculators, including the Estimated Family Contribution and one that forecasts future college costs.

There are probably as many places on the Web to look for college funding as there are entering college freshmen. If you don't find some leads with the sites listed here, try writing down a list of everything that makes you unique -- your ethnicity, clubs you belong to, organizations your parents are members of, your parents' employers, your hobbies, and even your state or county of residence might offer leads to scholarships.

And if you've already narrowed down the list of colleges you'd like to attend, check out their Web sites. Often, scholarships and other special types of financial aid are advertised on the sites.

Finally, if you've got more than a couple of years before you'll go to college, try to find volunteer opportunities and join student organizations that interest you. Write for the student paper if you think you want to go into journalism. Offer to be the assistant for the school basketball team if a career in sports medicine or athletics interests you. Anything you do in high school will help you down the road, not only to get financial aid but to be accepted into the college of your choice.

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Related sites:

  • FinAid: The Financial Aid Information Page
  • fastWEB! (Financial Aid Search Through the Web)
  • CollegeEdge Home Page: College, Scholarships, Careers, Majors and more
  • Sallie Mae
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