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Scholarships and Financial Aid: Not Working for You Either, Huh?

Vincent St. James -- For students seeking financial assistance, there IS money available through a variety of education-oriented sources if you know where to look and are dedicated.

We're going to college, and we need cash. We have tuition and food, housing, books.... Like I said, we need cash.

Now we all hear about these billions of dollars of unclaimed scholarship money just floating around, yet can't seem to get our hands on any of it or on any other form of financial aid. We're out here working like dogs, trying to make time to study and not lose our sanity, until we finally just give up. This sounds like a pretty big problem. What to do?

First of all, you should know that there aren't billions of dollars out there just waiting to fall in your lap. In fact, most counselors and financial aid assistants wonder why this is stated so often, because it's not the case. So don't feel bad or think you "[stink]" because you haven't won some of this dough.

However, there IS some money to be made out there that many people either overlook or figure isn't worth pursuing. Trust me, it's worth taking a look at and worth pursuing.

The Usual Suspects

Your first destination should be the government. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) needs to be the first thing you check out. You may be eligible for grants or other special awards. Then go to your school to see if they have any special scholarships that are only available to students of that college or university.

After that, sign up to fastweb.com and scholarship.com and become familiar with those two sites; they are two of the most used on the Web. We can't stress enough how many times scholarship recipients win not from merit, but from lack of competition.

There's Something for Everyone!

People commonly think that only minorities and people with really low incomes and awesome grades can get scholarships. This is just not so. There are plenty of scholarships out there that are aimed at people in certain national or local clubs, that serve different interests such as drawing, writing, or a sport, and even some that are strictly for those with work experience. Tons of scholarships for college students are aimed at specific majors and corresponding social networks, such as the American Meteorological Scholarship and the John L. Carey Accounting Scholarship (from AICPA), just to name a few.

Be Creative When Searching

There are plenty of companies giving money away in hopes of attaining a student base of prospective future employees. If you're working in an industry-related field, for example, see what top technological companies such as General Motors and IBM have to offer. If you're working in finance and economics, check out some big time (and small time) Wall St. corporations, for instance.

Also, don't forget to check out your own community. YMCA, churches, local youth groups, and sports teams, they all give out money to deserving individuals, so do some homework on your hometown before moving on to bigger venues.

The Essay Contest

These are wonderful. Check out what you like, what you know a lot and are passionate about, and write an essay to submit to a contest or scholarship offer. Get friends in on it...help each other out and promise to share earnings.

Why Isn't This EASY?

Now, I don't want to brag, but I won quite a few scholarships in my day. However, I remember always getting questions about "how do you do it," "you're so lucky," and so on.

Well, it really isn't that complicated -- it's just going to take some work and dedication. Start early, make a list of scholarships, plan for scholarship-work time, and get busy. Don't feel bad when you don't win; most students are happy to win a few because that's usually all it takes to get over the financial hurdle. Just keep focused on what you're trying to do, hope for the best, and do NOT stress out about it.

Alternatives

There are a few alternatives. However, never resort to credit cards. Ever. What you want to look for are student loans because they have lower interest rates and usually have friendlier grace periods and payback periods. Don't worry about being in student loan debt upon graduation...$10,000-$15,000 is not bad at all (if being repaid over ten years).

Stafford loans are the most common. They offer around $2,600 for first-year, $3,500 for second-year, and $5500 for third-year students. Perkins loans usually don't have to be repaid until nine months after graduation, and you have 10 years to pay.

Check out private loans, maybe from loan-specialist companies and your own school. Check out the American Education Society, which also provides private loans for people.

Don't Stress It

There is money to be made. Just be focused, don't get discouraged, and work hard at it. Well, what are you waiting for?

Vincent St. James was born and reared in Los Angeles, California, and went to school in Boston, Massachusetts. Vincent's research is primarily in the field of Film Studies. Besides catching flicks, this "West Coast Bostonian" also enjoys playing basketball, pool, and participates in independent film production. Vincent is a writer for thecollegeguys.com.

© 2005 Vincent St. James

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