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The search for scholarships

Figuring one's way toward the first day of classes at a college or university is no easy task for parents or students. That's where our new "Countdown to College" column comes in. An independent counselor will give sound advice on everything from figuring out where to apply to getting financial aid, to interviewing. Find it every week in NeXt.

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So you think just the neediest kids, the brainiacs and the jocks receive all the scholarship money?

Wrong. "What most families don't realize is that the most aid -- whether it be in grants, scholarships or loans -- goes to those who are savviest about applying for it," says Kalman Chany, author of "Paying for College Without Going Broke."

Many families rely solely on the generosity of the financial aid office and are often disappointed with what they are offered.

What many parents fail to understand is that while their relationship with a financial aid office is not inherently an adversarial one, the administrators do receive their paychecks from the college. Their job is to share the resources of the university with the most sought-after students.

For the last two decades college costs have risen at nearly three times the rate of inflation. "Colleges have been sitting in a supply-and-demand sweet spot and have not been punished for raising their prices," says Lynn O'Shaughnessy, author of "The College Solution."

In fact, some colleges have recently raised their tuition to be in line with their closest competitors, based on the perception that families felt that a more expensive college provides a better education.

Parents are often at a loss for how to assist their high school seniors during the admissions process. While counselors and admissions officials agree that it is inappropriate for parents to be overly involved with college applications, it is fine for Mom and Dad to take the lead in the scholarship search.

Some great resources:

*www.Fastweb.com. This is a great site to start the process. It is free, easy and user-friendly and once you register you will receive e-mails with scholarships that match your criteria.

*www.finaid.com. Provides a great overview of scholarships, loans, grants and even military aid. The site provides financial aid applications, financial aid calculators and great instructions on filling out the FAFSA (Free Applications for Federal Student Aid). There is also a section where you can "Ask the Advisor" and receive personalized help.

*www.collegeispossible.org. This is a great site to get introduced to what financial aid is all about. There is information on determining financial aid packages, descriptions of different grant, loan and federal programs as well as an area on tax benefits.

*www.collegeinvest.org. This site offers a free downloadable scholarship workbook with checklists and to-do lists.

*www.salliemae.com. A for-profit organization, SallieMae is a highly reputable company with some great resources.
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.

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