In The College Solution, Lynn O’Shaughnessy provides an easy-to-use roadmap that you can use to find the right colleges (not just the most hyped) and to dramatically reduce your costs. In this excerpt, learn more about saving for college and finding private scholarships.

If you’re interested in hunting for private scholarships, here are some tips to increase your odds:

Reevaluate aiming for top scholarships. The best-known and most lucrative scholarships will be the hardest to win. Mega awards like the Coca-Cola Scholars attract a national audience, so the odds of winning will be miniscule.

Aim lower. It should be easier to win scholarships in your own community and region. Does your workplace offer scholarships to children of employees? Some unions also kick in money for the right student. Service organizations are good places to contact. Also check for scholarships in your high school’s counseling department. Visit the resource desk at the local library.

Explore online scholarship tools. Online scholarship locators will simplify your job. Once at the free sits, you can personalize your search by typing in your interests, accomplishments, and other unique aspects about yourself. The database will compare your profile with the requirements of countless scholarships and spit out a list of possibilities.

Here are three prominent scholarships search sites:

  • Fastweb,
  • ScholarPRO,

The most successful treasure hunters will be the ones who approach the scholarship process as a part-time job.

Know who is more likely to win scholarships. Mark Kantrowitz, who is publisher at Fastweb, shares in his slim book Secrets to Winning a Scholarship some of the characteristics of teenagers who are more likely to win private scholarships. Here are some of the factors that typically boost an applicant’s chances:

  • Higher grade point averages
  • Higher ACT/SAT scores
  • Majoring in engineering or science
  • White
  • Attending private high school
  • Participating in community service

Kantrowitz suggests that students apply to all scholarships for which they are eligible. Who wins is a bit random, even among talented students, so applying to every scholarship that matches your background is the best way to maximize your chances of winning one. After your first half dozen or so applications, students find that they can reuse previous application essays, saving a lot of time.

Beware of scholarship rip-offs. Free college financial seminars can be ripe breeding grounds for rip-off artists. If you are dealing with legitimate professionals, they won’t promise that your child will win a scholarship or grant. Be skeptical of any testimonials that you hear from audience members. They could easily be planted in the room to generate sales.

How do you know if you are dealing with a shyster? According to the Federal Trade Commission, here are some of their telltale promises:

  • The scholarship is guaranteed or you’ll get your money back.
  • You can’t get this information anywhere else.
  • The outfit asks for a credit card or bank account number to hold the scholarship.
  • The scholarship will cost money.
  • You’re a finalist in a contest that you never entered.

Learn more about scholarship scams at the Federal Trade Commission’s website at To file a complaint with the FTC call (877) FTC-HELP. Other contacts, if you suspect a scam, are the local Better Business Bureau and your state’s department of consumer protection.

Buy The College Solution by Lynn O’Shaughnessy