Free money for tuition is floating around out there; you just have to know where to look.
Step 1: Know your eligibility Scholarships are usually categorized into one of five groups: academic, athletic, need-based, interest- or club-based, and culture-based. Make sure you understand the requirements of any scholarships you're interested in.
Step 2: Write a 'brag sheet' Type up a brag sheet – a page that includes your activities and achievements, which you should give to teachers and other mentors when you ask them to write you scholarship letters of recommendation.
Step 3: Meet with financial counselor Make an appointment with a financial or guidance counselor at your high school – or college, if you're already attending. They can help you get organized, pump up your application, and inform you of scholarships that may fly under the radar.
TIP: Many scholarships require a personal essay. To save time, write one essay that you can edit for each application.
Step 4: Search online Search online. There are several web sites offering free, personalized database searches that will match you up with both well-known and obscure scholarships.
TIP: Be cautious of any scholarship sites requiring a fee for their services. Check out the Federal Trade Commission's web site to learn more about scholarship scams and what to watch out for.
Step 5: Search locally You might be surprised at how many local businesses, churches, and community organizations offer scholarships to graduating seniors. Check with your school to get a list of local organizations that have awarded scholarships in the past.
Step 6: Contact colleges Don't be shy about contacting prospective colleges to find out what they offer. Once you've narrowed down your schools, contact their financial aid offices to inquire about scholarships available to incoming students.
Step 7: Apply Start applying – if you can, begin the process a full year before you intend to use the scholarship money. The earlier you start, the more applications you'll be able to send out, and the more likely you won't need a fourth job just to make it to graduation!
FACT: The Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest awards a $1,500 scholarship to the high school student with the best duck-calling skills.