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When it comes to searching for scholarships, the federal government is not the premier source of information. A scholarship is an academic award to a student for outstanding academic, athletic, or artistic talent. Like a grant, a scholarship does not have to be repaid.

A scholarship often requires the recipient to maintain a high standard of academic success or artistic accomplishment. If the recipient falls short of the minimum standards, he or she may lose a scholarship. Losing a scholarship doesn't mean you have to repay anything. Instead, it means you will have to turn to other sources of financing to pay for college, including grants or loans.

While the Internet is a great place to search for scholarships, it's also important that you avoid scams. You can usually tell if an offer is a scam if it seeks a payment from you upfront. A few free Web search engines for scholarships are shown below.

A scholarship fund is the entity that pays and replenishes the scholarship. Colleges and universities, foundations, charities, and corporations may sponsor a scholarship fund. There is no restriction on the type of organization that can offer a scholarship. Scholarship funds are often endowed and supported by contributions from individuals and organizations committed to such ideals as improving public education and the arts, developing future community and business leaders, and developing new technologies.

A few of the major Web site databases that let you search for scholarships for free include:

  • College Board The College Board offers a scholarship search engine that lets users search through more than 2,200 scholarships, internships, and other financial aid, totaling nearly $6 billion. The non-profit membership association of colleges and universities also publishes yearly a handbook of similar programs.
  • Peterson's Peterson's offers a database of 5,000 scholarship providers and $10 billion worth of awards that can be easily searched by specific criteria that match your interests. A cursory search shows scholarship funds sponsored by such diverse organizations as the North Carolina Police Corps and Russian Federation of Presidential Scholarships.
  • FinAid In addition to offering free access to scholarship search engine FastWeb, FinAid offers links to other specialized scholarship search services, including CollegeNet, Mach25, and SRN Express. For more information, see the scholarships section of FinAid's Web site.

A major scholarship program available to all high school students is the National Merit Scholarship (NMS) program. If a student scores high enough on the PSAT/NMSQT test (usually administered in the student's junior year), they may qualify for an NMS scholarship.

For more information, see the Web site of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), a non-profit organization.

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