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Wondering About Those College Scholarship Search Services? DON'T!

By Howard and Susan Richman
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #28, 1999.

Wondering about those college scholarship search services? DON'T!
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Wondering about those college scholarship search services? DON'T!
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Howard and Susan Richman

'Tis the season for . . . wondering how in the world you might pay for your homeschooled kid to go to college. I'm doing a lot of that right now, with two boys in college and Molly going into her senior year of homeschooling. Some of you might be in the same boat.

Heard those terrific ads that sound too good to be true about millions of dollars of scholarship aid going unclaimed every year - and if you just use this college scholarship service, you'll find out about thousands of dollars that your student is qualified to receive?

Be wary - these scholarship search services, while usually not totally bogus, at least are not worth the $75 to $175 you will pay the company who will do the search. I know - I myself, who should have known much better, almost fell for one of these a while back.

It started innocently enough. I got a postcard in the mail as the parent of Jesse Richman, who was then in his freshman year at college. It was recognized that my son had been specifically chosen, because of his strong academic record, to be eligible for this 'national' organization's scholarship opportunity. At least $1000 was guaranteed to him in non-loan scholarships. I called the 800 phone number listed, just to get more information. The nice counselor I reached made it appear that they gave scholarships themselves ("We work very closely with a number of major corporations who offer non-loan scholarships to students just like your son . . ."), and that for the small fee of $175 Jesse would indeed be guaranteed to get at least $1000 for college expenses - or my money would be returned in full. With Jesse planning to go on the round-the-world Semester at Sea program, which would cost more than his scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh provided, we could use some extra funds.

Fool that I was, I grabbed at this (my husband Howard was out of town on one of his homeschooling evaluation trips so I didn't have his leveler head to put a stop to the nonsense - he can even refuse a Kirby vacuum cleaner saleslady who's just shampooed our rug in the middle of a snowstorm . . .). After giving my credit card number to cover that $175 right over the phone, they then sent me out an application form - but as I later read through the questions, I began realizing that indeed this outfit was simply a computer college scholarship search company. They gave no scholarships themselves - they would only get the data from me that would let them print out a list (hopefully for them a very long list) of possible scholarships that Jesse could apply for himself, from all sorts of private corporations or organizations.

Reading the fine print further, I realized that my $175 would only be refunded if we could prove, through rejection letters from every scholarship opportunity they had provided us with, that Jesse had been formally turned down from each and every one (and I didn't even remember then that most scholarships or contests only notify winners, not losers). I realized that many of these scholarship applications would involve long essays, making posters, sending in formal transcripts, getting recommendations, and more and more - in short, it would be very time consuming for Jesse to follow up on even a selected few, let along all of them. I realized pretty quickly that Jesse would be furious with me if he found out that I'd gotten him into this mess.

At this point I came to my senses, and with a stern letter to the company, was able to get my money back promptly. If I'd actually sent in the application form filled out, I would have had no recourse - luckily I realized this in time. I'm wiser now. I hope you will be too.

So what can you do if you want to find out about those private scholarships that really may be out there? Don't pay anyone to do a computer search - do your own, using the Internet. The site to look up (and go to your library if you don't have a computer hooked up on line yourself, or visit at a friend who does) is www.finaid.org. This site is an independent site created by Mark Kantrowitz, author of The Prentice Hall Guide to Scholarships and Fellowships in Math and Science, and it's consistently recommended by college financial aid administrators as a site to trust. You'll find full info on all aspects of paying for college here. It's truly a virtual guidance counselor, something all homeschoolers can use!

This site will let you do a complete scholarship search right online, and you can choose from several scholarship search options. You simply key in answers to a series of questions (many of them trying to see if you fit any odd target groups, like "left-handed Polish Americans who live in Pittsburgh who are interested in forestry careers"). Within minutes you'll get a full listing of scholarships your student is probably eligible to apply for. You then write off for applications, apply if you want to, and that's it. There is even a feature that updates your scholarship possibilities every month or so, as the site finds out about new scholarships that are out there. They even have loads of info on all the scholarship scams to avoid, and how to spot them. I'm sure I recognized the group that sent me the nice postcard. There was even a story about a student who had started his "own" scholarship - publicized it somehow (probably on the Internet), had an application form readied, collected about $15 from each person's "application fee," and then declared himself the winner. All those $15 fees added up to a good "scholarship" for this young scam artist.

Most of us won't find the scholarships that will really help us pay for college through these types of searches, though. Often your place of business, the colleges you are seriously considering, and even the local newspaper are just as good in finding out about scholarships that might be good possibilities for your kids. In fact, many of us choose which colleges our kids will apply to based on whether or not the institution offers any sorts of merit scholarships. No Ivy League school offers merit scholarships, and many schools that wish they were Ivy League don't either. The next tier of schools does, as they are working very hard to attract bright students to their programs - offering scholarships based on merit is their best way of doing this.

Still, doing an online scholarship search is entertaining, costs nothing, and may net you some good leads. Try it out. All the other financial aid info is really worthwhile and helpful too.

Just ditch any little postcards you get in the mail about the wonderful opportunities available to your son or daughter if you just call this 800 number.

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