Charting a Course to the Fellowship Road

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

While no master list of outside scholarships and other financial aid for undergraduates exists, a general rule of thumb is to keep your eyes and ears open and ask around, say the experts.

"It does take a certain amount of resourcefulness on the part of the fellowship seeker," says Constance Chen, recipient of a Pforzheimer fellowship at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Mass. Narrowing your interests helps to direct your search, she says.

Outside scholarships can come from alumnae, foundations, corporations, clubs, philanthropic and professional associations, institutes, and other organizations. Private-sector aid to education is estimated to be $1.2 billion, and the system naturally favors the best students. But you can be eligible because of your interest in or commitment to a particular field or even because of your nationality or place of residence.

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"I tell students to think big," says Jean Danielson, director of the honors program at Tulane University in New Orleans. "Check bulletin boards, and talk to faculty members."

Don't give up, and keep applying, adds UCLA graduate Sarumathi Jayaraman, who has been awarded various grants for her community service. She was turned down for the first few she applied for. "After you've applied for one, the next time it's much easier," she says.

Fellowships do come with a few caveats, however. If you receive need-based aid for the academic year, an outside scholarship may reduce your award, says Mark Kantrowitz, a financial-aid expert. Make sure you check first. If you're a senior planning to go on to graduate school, you may also want to weigh the pros and cons of taking time off from regular academic rigors, he cautions. "It can get you out of the mode of studying."

"Some students find it difficult to get back. You don't realize [the skill of studying] is missing 'til it's gone," Mr. Kantrowitz says. Take your GREs and other entrance exams before you go, he suggests.

Resource books on scholarships, grants, and loans, such as those put out by Prentice Hall (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.) and Sourcebooks (Naperville, Ill.) are also worthwhile.

But perhaps the best place to start is on-line: The Financial Aid Information Page (http://www.finaid.org) and FASTWEB on the World Wide Web are excellent resources with bibliographies, links to other sites, and helpful information about personal finance. Don't forget to be alert to unscrupulous groups that offer scholarship "awards" if you first send them a fee.

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