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Paying for College

Free Money for College Students

Every bit helps, and scholarships aren't that hard to get. Really.

As the biggest-ever high school graduating class gets ready to head off to college in the midst of an economic slump, the scramble for tuition -- not to mention room and board, books, and airfare home -- is on.

Private scholarships account for 7% of all grants awarded, and they average just under $2,000. The typical student applies for five to six awards, and the odds of winning one are about one in ten. You don't have to be an all-star athlete, a musical prodigy or even an A student to collect, either.

For instance, the Vegetarian Resource Group offers two $5,000 scholarships per year to students who promote a vegetarian lifestyle. Budding free-market capitalists can vie for one of 521 awards from the Ayn Rand Institute, ranging from $30 to $10,000, by writing an essay on one of Rand's novels.

Start your search in the high school guidance office. The financial-aid officer at the school you're applying to can help as well. FastWeb.com lists more than 1.5 million scholarships worth more than $3.4 billion, and matches scholarships to your profile. You'll get the most bang for your buck by staying local. You may have to look no further than an employer (the student's or a parent's) or a community group, club or lodge. The narrower the field, the less the competition.

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Schools may reduce aid if scholarships and aid combined equal more than a student's calculated need. But that might mean a reduction in loans. Don't pay a nickel for services that purport to match you with awards you can find on your own. And never pay an application fee. Scholarships, by definition, are free.