Last Updated Apr 1, 2010 2:03 PM EDT
Here are four ways to boost your chances of winning a college scholarship:
1. Focus on college scholarshipsMost parents and teenagers assume that private scholarships are the biggest source of free college cash. Not true. The colleges themselves hand out the biggest wads of cash. Since 2004, merit scholarships that colleges offer to students has soared by 50%.
Use MeritAid.com to find merit scholarships at individual colleges and universities. Also poke around on school websites, where you will often see the requirements for merit scholarships.
2. Investigate talent scholarshipsColleges will typically put applicants in the running for their own scholarships automatically. Many schools, however, also offer talent scholarships that require a special application. These scholarships are often given to students who have special abilities in such areas as art, music, volunteering, environmentalism, science, leadership and writing. You can often find information on these scholarships on a college's website or contact the admission office.
3. Apply for local scholarshipsKeep in mind that private scholarships are almost always going to be smaller than the scholarships that colleges sponsor. The average private college scholarship is worth about $2,500 and it's a one-shot award.
The competition to win a private college scholarship will be brutal for students who set their sights on the lucrative national scholarship competitions. Teenagers should check with their high school guidance department for local and regional scholarship opportunities since they will be easier to win. Your local library should be another source.
4. Don't follow the crowdLesley Wainwright, who won the coveted Coca-Cola Scholar scholarship many years ago had to answer this question: If you could go back in history, what one thing would you change. In an interview with US News, Wainwright said that she figured people would talk about abolishing slavery or saving Martin Luther King Jr. or John F. Kennedy. She volunteered that she'd stop the burning of the library in ancient Alexandria. Bottom line: think outside the box when you are completing scholarship applications.
Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and you can also find her at TheCollegeSolutionBlog. Follow her on Twitter.