Sail the Scholarship: You Can Quickly Get On Course for Some Cash Sail the Scholarship: You Can Quickly Get On Course for Some Cash

Sail the Scholarship: You Can Quickly Get On Course for Some Cash

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High school graduation is a mortarboard's throw away, and you've worked hard to get accepted to the college of your choice. But, looking at the tab, you and your parents may need some help paying the sky-high cost of higher education. Before you sign all of the loan papers, read up on what New Jersey has to offer by way of scholarships, which are gifts of money to students from the state, a college, organization or foundation.

Elizabeth Wong, executive director of the state's Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, says that New Jersey teens with strong grades and SATs, may be eligible for a number of merit-based scholarships, including the Edward J. Bloustein Distinguished Scholars Program and the Urban Scholars Program. The awards total as much as $1,000, and often many of the colleges in New Jersey piggyback onto this program and will also offer varying amounts of their own scholarship money to these outstanding teens.

Other scholarship cash is available through the Outstanding Scholar Recruitment Program, with awards of up to $7,500 per student. Individual high schools and the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority identify these scholars from their grades and SAT scores. Make sure to ask your guidance counselor about these awards and others, or contact the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority hotline at: (800) 792-8670 for eligibility information and participating colleges. The Authority's Website is: www.hesaa.org.

Merit-based scholarships differ dramatically from school to school, and depend on academic and SAT performance, and the actual tuition of your college of choice. Richard Woodland, director of financial aid for the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers University, cautions, "Students need to be realistic when they think that they will qualify for a merit-based scholarship from a university or college. Do your homework on your prospective school, and make sure you stand out academically among the crowd."

Also, don't overlook the small details. Don Betterton, director of financial aid at Princeton University, says that teens should read the prospective college admissions Web site carefully. Pay attention to all of the forms that are needed to apply for aid, as well as admissions, and file by the listed deadlines. If you're looking for money from a source other than the state or school, make sure to check out popular aid Websites, like www.fastweb.com. Also, don't be afraid to ask the college's financial aid staff a question that can't be easily answered from the application materials or the school Website. Betterton says he is amazed by the number of teens and parents who seek out the help of a paid scholarship service to handle the forms, which he says is a waste when they could easily talk to the college source.

Make sure you and your parents complete the federal financial aid forms on time. Your school's guidance counselor can help you with this, or you can handle it online at: www.fafsa.ed.gov. (Colleges and universities require the FAFSA form for any sort of scholarship or loan aid.) When your form is processed, you will be considered for any and all state and federal grants available for those financially in need. Even if your family makes a good salary you still may qualify. The New Jersey Tuition Aid Grant program, for instance, provides varying awards to about one in every three full-time New Jersey students for attendance at many of the state's colleges and universities.

The federal Pell Grant program provided a max award of $4,000 for 2002 to 2003, but smaller awards were also made. A Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity grant is also an option for undergraduates with exceptional financial need, and it totals between $100 and $4,000 a year. The federal work-study program provides part-time jobs for cash-strapped college students. Visit www.ed.gov/offices/OSFAP/Students/ for info.

Church, temple, volunteer and other club groups (such as 4-H) often offer scholarship money to college-bound students. Your parents' job, union or professional association may also give out college grants. So, don't forget to ask about these! Sports scholarships, while they do exist, are few and far between, and come directly from the university. Give it a try, but know it's a long shot. And, if your grades or SATs don't look good, you won't even qualify for this money. Be realistic in your scholarship search.