If you are a college student, or parent of a current or soon-to-be college student, you may have heard that there are lots of unclaimed scholarships just waiting to be found. Taking this a step further, you may be told that, for a fee, someone can help you find those unclaimed funds.

Here is the reality: the reason scholarships go “unclaimed” is, in many cases, because no candidates met the specific application requirements.

Scholarships are funded by people, colleges or foundations who want to want to honor or support a student who meets their vision of an “ideal” candidate.

This is a very important fact to remember: those who give away the money get to decide where it goes!

There is no “fairness” to scholarship awards in the sense that all equally deserving candidates receive an equal sum of money. Scholarship awards are solely dependent on whatever circumstances the individual scholarship creators have individually decided are important.

For example: If a scholarship is created in memory of someone, you often see the surviving relatives asking that the award winners will have attended the same high school, or same college, or will go into the same career field as their loved one. If you went to a different high school, or have picked a different major, you don’t qualify for that particular award. That’s just how it works.

Another example: Some colleges automatically award certain levels of scholarships to students who meet XY or Z qualifications such as a certain grade-point average or ACT test score. Other colleges or scholarship foundations review the “the entire package” such as special circumstances the student wrote on his or her application, course work that was taken in high school or activities outside of school. Regardless of the circumstances: a scholarship award from a college will not transfer if the student decides to take classes elsewhere.

What happens to all that “unclaimed” money? It sits in the investment account, waiting for the next student who does meet the qualifications.

The scholarship foundations DO want to give away their money. A corporation gets public relations points for being generous. A family remembers their loved one when a memorial scholarship is awarded. A college enhances its reputation by attracting the most promising students to its campus.

But you are not going to find any commercial agency, financial aid office or Internet resource that will provide the details on every scholarship you or your student might qualify for.

It is, quite frankly, impossible to do that when each foundation individually markets their scholarships in whatever way provides them with the most promising candidates.

So where do you find that money? You can do that at no cost, although it will take time and effort. And right now, current and incoming college students need to be focusing on scholarship applications for the 2008-09 academic year. If what we learned during my daughter’s senior year is any indication, some scholarship deadlines have already passed and there will be a flurry of new deadlines in the next few weeks.

The first two places to seek scholarship funding are always your high school’s counselor office and your current (or intended) college’s office of financial aid. Many scholarships are based on what high school or what college one attends. Besides, school officials know what programs have awarded money to their students in the past, and can point you to resources you might not otherwise know about.

The next place to make inquiries is through the students’ or the parents’, workplaces, financial institutions and professional or social organizations. My daughter qualified for one scholarship she won because of her dad’s employment. Another scholarship she won through a club that she and I belong to. Neither of those scholarships were advertised at her high school or college – because those two scholarship foundations found it more effective to market their programs directly to those who qualified in the first place.

You also absolutely should watch the Community Page and Classroom Page sections of the print and e-editions of The Monroe Evening News. The newsroom is already receiving announcements of locally-funded scholarships for students in a variety of circumstances. I have one such notice on my desk right now. But those local program deadlines are often on a tight turnaround schedule.

And, if you or your child received a scholarship that is renewable for multiple years, now is the time to inquire with the scholarship directors about the procedures for getting those funds. In some circumstances, you need to fill out a brand new application for the renewable scholarship money. In other circumstances, you only need to submit a college transcript that proves you are still in school or are maintaining a certain grade point average.

Then, while or after you are researching those possibilities, you can search for additional opportunities on the Internet.

During my daughter’s senior year in high school, I spent many, many hours researching several Internet databases for my daughter in search of additional scholarship funding.

Frankly, I was not impressed with what I found.

Some national search engines referred us to a particular scholarship program that I knew no longer existed (because the sponsoring agency had a post on its web site about phasing out that award).

Other search engines pulled up referrals for totally irrelevant circumstances. If you have a Michigan girl who has applied for colleges in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, … why does she need to know about a scholarship that is available only to those who attend college in Missouri or who graduated from a specific high school in Florida?

If I couldn’t find a scholarship program, it either didn’t exist or my daughter didn’t qualify for it.

We didn’t get any money from the scholarships I found via the national Internet databases. Maybe some local families did better than we did on those searches. I certainly hope so.

Either way, I’m glad I didn’t pay anybody to do that work for me.

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