Boston — Psst! . . . Mom. Dad. Thinking about selling the house, . . . taking in boarders, . . . pawning the silverware? Is your teen-ager puzzled by all those "Join the Army" posters that are pasted up around the house?
If so, you share with parents across the United States the widespread concern about the high cost of a college education. Many don't know where they are going to find the money to send "John" or "Jane" to college.
If you think your child is an unlikely candidate for a scholarship, take heart. The scholarships available are surprisingly underutilized, with thousands worth nearly $130 million lying idle each year. And many students in that great "in between" category -- neither obviously in financial need nor in the "merit scholar" league -- actually can qualify for scholarship aid.
At least two companies, National Scholarship Research Service of San Rafael, Calif., and Scholarship Search of New York, offer a service to help match students and scholarships. Representatives of both firms say popular misconceptions about need, and what level of family income qualifies for these funds, keeps many middle class families from even applying.
The surprise to many prospective college students, though, is that there are many private scholarships and grants for which need is not even a consideration.
By using the processing speed of a computer (Scholarship Search has over 250, 000 items in its data-base) and a detailed checklist-application form filled out by the applying student, the two firms match available funds with individual requests.
Both charge a fee to assist parents and students in sifting through the maze of differing rules and regulations involved in obtaining a scholarship -- National Schoalrship Research Service charges $35, and Scholarship Search, $57.
Their success lies in their ability to target eligibility. Though neither company guarantees that an applicant will get a scholarship or grant, Mary Ann Maxin, executive director of Scholarship Search, says about 40 percent of those her firm serves do.
And, as will become obvious once your child starts applying for some of the scholarships, a student doesn't have to be an Einstein to qualify. Place of residence, religion, ethnic background, scholastic record, school and social interests, career goals, parental employment, military service, organizational affiliations, and many other bits of personal history -- even date of birth --ship or financial aid.
A sense of adventure can await the family filling out application forms. The reason money is set aside for some scholarships appears a bit bizarre -- unless your child is eligible, of course. These are known as "exotic scholarships" in the trade. And there are some that go unused just because they're "too far out."
A few "unique" ones:
* If you live in Wheelock, Vt., and your son can meet the normal entrance requirements for Dartmouth College, he is eligible for one of the least known and oldest scholarships in the country. It dates from 1829, when then Dartmouth president Long told the farmers in the Wheelock area, who tilled the considerable acreage owned by Dartmouth, that any of their boys who wanted to could come to Dartmouth for free. The present trustees honor that verbal agreement. With current tuition at $6,075 annually this makes the total scholarship in excess of $24,000.
* Maybe you're really planning ahead for your child's education, and happen to have a toddler born June 12, 1979. If you are, you might want to start interesting the future scholar in attending Rochester Institure of Technology in Rochester, N.Y. The reason -- the date marks the 150th anniversary of the institute, plus the fact that 150, $1,500 four-year scholarships will be awarded to commemorate the anniversary and to honor anyone "smart" enough to be born on such an important date.
* Forget that old shibboleth about discouraging our child of left-handed tendencies. Juniata College in Pennsylvania offers four $300-a-year grants to "needy lefthanders."
* Yale has $1,000 grants available to students named DeForest or Leavenworth, while Vassar has some special scholarships for girls of Romanian ancestry. Tufts University has funds restricted to the sons and daughters of New England fishermen.
* Boston cabbies support a fund that dates back 20 years for the sons and daughters of active drivers.
But there are hundreds of other scholarships out there just waiting to be applied for by "good" students with enough initiative to apply for them.