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Plan A: Scholarships and Grants

SCHOLARSHIPS are typically awarded for proven academic, athletic or artistic ability, regardless of need. They may be awarded on a one-time basis or renewed annually but with specific conditions such as a minimum GPA or a particular major. Be prepared to search; these dollars won’t find you.

At the federal level, grants are more plentiful than scholarships. Helpful tips on applying and searching for scholarships and links to the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool can be found at www.studentaid.ed.gov.

For scholarships related to specific careers on the federal level, check these:  

• Health and Human Services (www.hhs.gov)  

• National Service (www.nationalservice.gov)

• Veterans/Military (www.va.gov)

Visit www.FloridaStudentFinancialAid.org for a list of state scholarships with eligibility requirements and application procedures.

Every educational institution has wealthy graduates who “give back” to their alma mater in the form of endowments or scholarships; visit the financial aid office at your college of choice for details on scholarships specific to your school.

Pursue connections you (or family members) have locally to larger entities with potential money to give, such as: employers; nonprofit organizations; religious, fraternal and professional groups; service clubs; youth groups.

Some scholarships can even turn adversity into good fortune. For example, www.NationalMSSociety.org has information about scholarships available to persons with multiple sclerosis, and www.finaid.org/scholarships/cancer.phtml for cancer survivors. There are plenty more like these.

Online clearinghouses will match your personal background, skills and interests to available scholarships, including the downright quirky. Who knows? You might win college dollars for being left-handed or for speaking Klingon. It’s worth your time to search since some unusual scholarships go unclaimed simply because no one applied. Check www.fastweb.com and www.finaid.org for possibilities.

GRANTS come from two main sources — federal and state governments. Grants are plentiful but highly coveted; apply early.

Federal grants include the well-known, need-based Pell Grant for undergraduates, plus: the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) for those with exceptional need; the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant for prospective teachers; and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants for children of military personnel killed in action. Visit www.studentaid.ed.gov for complete descriptions and eligibility requirements.   

More than a dozen grant options are administered by Florida’s Office of Student Financial Assistance. Visit www.FloridaStudentFinancialAid.org for descriptions, eligibility requirements and application procedures.

Not all online scholarship opportunities are “legit.” Watch out for scams and walk away if:

• You are asked to “send money” to hold a scholarship. You should never have to pay money for free money.

• You are asked for your bank account information to “direct deposit” the scholarship money into your account. A legitimate scholarship provider would never do business this way.

• You are told that the scholarship is guaranteed. “Guaranteed” scholarships simply do not exist.