Does the idea of spending Saturdays searching thousands of pages of scholarship descriptions in your local library send you into a panic? Spend your time surfing instead--surfing the Web, that is. The Internet is an excellent source for information on scholarships and financial aid. Sallie Mae boasts an informative Web site at http://www.salliemae.com , with more than 350 pages of information on federal and private student aid programs.
FastWeb.com LLC, an Internet scholarship search company in Chicago, runs the largest scholarship service online (http://www.fastweb.com ). Mark Rothschild, director of scholarship services for FastWeb, says there are some 180,000 scholarships to search on the site. Of the more than $50 billion in financial aid doled out annually, he says, $40 billion is from state and federal sources, $8 billion from universities and $2 billion from private scholarships.
To start the FastWeb search, applicants provide a self-profile that can be used to match them to appropriate scholarships. Intended major, hobbies, religious and other affiliations, ethnic and racial background, state and county of residence, and with whom parents are employed are some of the screening criteria. Don't balk at answering these personal questions. Many providers are looking for people with different kinds of characteristics. An interest in photography or a parent's membership in the Knights of Columbus, for example, could qualify a student as a potential scholarship recipient.
After the profile is completed, the student initiates the search. Results arrive via e-mail and include the application deadline, where to apply, criteria, number of scholarships available, and the award amount. Students select scholarships of interest; at the click of an icon, a form letter is generated that can be signed and sent for more information.
What does all this information cost? Both Sallie Mae and FastWeb services are free. Beware of unscrupulous companies that require application fees, charge for otherwise free information or "guarantee" a scholarship.
Even after scholarships, savings and financial aid have been factored in, debt can mount quickly, and paying it off can take years, depending on the career at the end of the tunnel. Is the education worth the cost? If these numbers from the College Board in Washington, DC, are any indication, it doesn't take a college degree to figure it out: The lifetime earnings of a high school graduate are approximately $1.47 million, or $36,751 per year. A bachelor's degree can translate into approximately $2.2 million, or $61,700 annually. A doctorate could mean lifetime earnings of $2.99 million, or $96,935 annually. Professional degrees, such as medical or law, translate to approximately $106,000 annually. That makes your sheepskin worth its weight in gold.
Lorayne Fiorillo is first vice president of investments at Prudential Securities. She presents retirement planning and personal finance workshops worldwide. For more information, write to her in care of Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614.