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Scholarships are free money for the taking

Tribune Content Agency logoTribune Content Agency 8/31/2018 By Terry Savage, Tribune Content Agency
a woman standing on a sidewalk: *SCHOLARSHIP © Dreamstime.com *SCHOLARSHIP

It's deadline time for college applications, and soon it will be crunch time for figuring out how to pay for college if you're accepted. That's why you should start your search for free money now, well before the scholarship funds for the 2018-2019 school year run out early next year.

Scholarships can make all the difference in college affordability, so set aside some time in the holiday season to search online for them. High school sophomores and juniors should search, too. Starting early to build credentials required for some of these scholarships -- or practicing writing application essays-- can pay off when it comes time to apply.

By now, high school seniors (and those in college) should have already filed the FAFSA, the form required for federal student loans and for need-based assistance such as grants and work-study programs from the colleges to which you are accepted. But it's unlikely those programs will pay for the entire cost of your school year. That's where scholarships can be very helpful.

The internet has made the search easy -- and free. Fastweb.com, Scholarships.com, TuitionFundingSources.com and the scholarship search tool at SallieMae.com are sites that let you search for millions of dollars in scholarships.

Start by filling in an online profile at each site. Then, with a click, the site searches its vast databases to find any scholarships for which you might qualify and provides a direct link to each.

The more information you give about yourself, the more matches a site can make. This is one area where racial profiles, ethnicity, religion and family history can provide a positive contribution to your success.

The sites are free because they are supported by online ads. They also may share your info with colleges recruiting potential applicants and with financial services firms offering private student loans. Importantly, you can opt out of receiving email pitches.

Unusual scholarships

Here are some of the most unusual offerings you'll find among the many that are accessible to a much wider pool of applicants:

--The Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest. No kidding. Here's the official description: By fashioning prom attire entirely out of Duck Tape, students have a chance to win one of two $10,000 Grand Prizes (one for best tux and one for best dress), totaling $20,000 in scholarship dollars. Entries must be submitted between April 1 and June 2, 2018.

--The National Potato Council Scholarship. The $10,000 award is provided annually to a graduate student with a strong interest in research that can directly benefit the potato industry.

--The Zolp Scholarship. This provides tuition assistance to any Catholic student with the last name of Zolp who attends Loyola University in Chicago.

--The For the Love of Chocolate Scholarship. This is my personal favorite! Alas, it is only offered to students at The French Pastry School.

Again, the odds are that you will find dozens of scholarships for which you can qualify --many worth a lot of money.

Early bird scholarships

Kevin Ladd, COO of Scholarships.com, says, "Junior year is the new senior year." He offers examples of huge awards for which students can compete in grade and high school, with the money held for their college education.

--Toshiba/NSTA Exploravision Science Competition. This competition provides $10,000 grants and is open to students at every grade level for project-based science competitions. They've already awarded over $6.7 million in grants. Deadline is February 8, 2018.

--Davidson Fellows Scholarship. This scholarship gives awards of $50,000, $25,000 and $10,000 to "extraordinary young people, 18 and under, who have completed a significant piece of work." Deadline is February 14, 2018.

--Ron Brown Scholars Program. Scholarships for African-Americans (applying in any year of high school) to "pursue higher education and become leaders in their community." Winner gets $10,000 per year over four years for college. Requires a 1,000-word essay, with citations and five sources. Deadline is January 9, 2018.

--John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Scholarship. This contest is open to all high school students, requires a 700-1,000 word creative essay that demonstrates an understanding of political courage as described by John F. Kennedy in "Profiles in Courage." Award amount is $10,000. Deadline is January 4, 2018.

Please refer to the detailed application requirements for each of these programs at Scholarships.com.

You could win a lot of college money by using your winter break wisely to work on these applications and essays. In this case, it's the early bird that gets the money. And that's The Savage Truth.

(Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and the author of four best-selling books, including "The Savage Truth on Money." Terry responds to questions on her blog at TerrySavage.com.)

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