With the cost of college going through the roof, scholarships are one of the best ways to defray those costs, because they do not have to be repaid. Scholarships are offered by organizations, companies and private donors and they often go unclaimed because not enough students apply for them.

Although in the current economic environment, this is happening less often than in the past, it is still the case for many scholarships out there so it pays to do your research.

The first step to finding free college money for your child is to track down all the opportunities available.

  • Ask your child to talk to his or her school guidance counselor, local librarian and contact the financial aid office at the college in which they are interested. These professionals have a great deal of information about available funding that they tend to share with students with whom they have a good relationship. In addition, each school also has awards donated by alumni for their own students.
  • Make a list of organizations and groups you belong to, such as any faith-based organization, sports club, your local bank, professional or industry association. Contact each organization to find out whether they have scholarships for members’ families.
  • Speak to your employer. Some employers offer support for employee’s family members attending college. If you work for a large corporation, find out if the Hispanic Employee Network (also called an affinity group, Employee Business Network, etc.) offers scholarships for children of employees. More and more, these groups are realizing the importance of funding education. If your child has a part-time job, check with that employer as well. McDonald’s for example, has national and local scholarships for Hispanics RMHC/HACER (there are four national awards of $100,000 each) to which students, whether they work at Mickey D’s or not, can apply.
  • Check out scholarship directories online and at the library. Recent directories list thousands of opportunities for students of all ages and abilities. Look at awards specifically designed for Latino students such as those compiled by Scholarships for Hispanics. There are many directories, websites and search engines focused on scholarships on the Latinos in College website.
  • Use scholarship search engines such as Fast Web, which allows your child to complete a profile and then be matched with options for college funding.
  • Assist your child in finding a scholarship that’s the right fit. There are awards for just about any student. Many high school students assume that they need to be a superstar athlete or have a perfect GPA in order to get college funding, but there are scholarships based on all kinds of things, such as having eyes with two different colors!

Sending out dozens of applications can take time as it is important to read all instructions carefully to tailor each application for each award. It is also important to start early, because different grants have different application dates. At the end of the day, the time and effort invested into finding and applying for scholarships is well worth the effort.