Some secrets to winning scholarship money for college

Wondering how you'll pay for college ever since those less-than-genius test scores found their way into your mailbox? Well, thousands of organizations can't wait to give away millions of dollars in merit-based scholarships - even if you aren't an academic whiz.

At least, that's what Benjamin Kaplan argues in his new book, "How to Go to College Almost For Free" (Waggle Dancer Books). During his last two years of high school, he discovered some secrets to the college-scholarship game - and amassed enough money to attend Harvard University virtually for free.

Many scholarships are in off-beat categories: lineal descendants of Confederate soldiers, future workers in the funeral-services industry, students with averages below C. But, Mr. Kaplan said in a recent Monitor interview, "The common denominator among winners is, they apply."

Here are some of his tips, as well as "guerrilla tactics" - unconventional techniques to get an edge over other college-cash seekers:

Start early. Quite a few scholarships target middle-school students and high school freshmen and sophomores. (At the same time, there are numerous scholarship programs aimed at students already in college.) Also, if you know what to expect early on, you can create the types of experiences that contribute to impressive scholarship rsums.

Use the Web. A quick way to generate leads is to utilize a variety of free scholarship searches on the Internet. Some places to start: www.winscholarships.com, www.srnexpress.com, and www.fastweb.com.

These databases ask you to provide information about your interests, record, and background, and then use this information to provide you with a list of scholarships that fit your profile. (Hint: Conduct multiple searches by varying your personal characteristics. This helps you locate scholarships that may be misclassified.)

Maximize your opportunities. Apply for all the scholarships you can, especially local scholarships (read: small applicant pools). Create reusable application materials that bridge multiple contests, such as essays on perennial themes.

Highlight personal strong points. Give judges a vivid image of who you are, and examples of qualities such as perseverance, teamwork, initiative, passion, and civic duty.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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