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    7 Keys to a Successful Financial Aid Search

    Paying for college doesn't have to be impossible. Check out these tips from financial aid experts.

    Jeremy Weber

    The Christian College Guide asked Christian college financial aid directors what characteristics they find in common among students who are successful in their searches for financial aid. These experts said if they could create the perfect financial aid searcher, he or she would bring the following seven P's to the search:

    1. Perspiration

    7 Keys for a Successful SearchAccording to David Schrock, supervisor of student resources for Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky, the hunt for college money takes sweat. "Students who are willing to work hard will have a much better chance at paying for school," he said. This hard work can take the shape of caffeine-aided internet searches for scholarships, writing endless amounts of letters to apply for potential ones, or working long hours in summer and winter in order to pay for fall and spring school fees.

    The hard work begins in high school with classroom performance. The qualifications for scholarships can vary tremendously, said Dave Weems, director of financial aid at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, but the standard prerequisites are a high GPA, high class rank and involvement in extracurricular activities. Working hard in classes is really working hard for college cash.

    "Above all else, the student needs to be the best student they can be," said Richard Blatchley, director of financial aid at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He estimates that about 85 percent of scholarships are based on grades, class rank and test scores. Blatchley cited the example of Sarah, a high school senior from a small town whose strong grades, test scores and school participation netted her $25,000 in scholarships.

    This hard work continues in the financial aid search process. Experts say the more possibilities students pursue, the greater the odds of success.

    "Be a detective," said Blatchley. "Check all avenues for scholarships." Some sources he recommends: the college you plan to attend, high school scholarships, scholarships offered by your parent's employer or your own employer, grants from local businesses, fastweb.com, and other scholarship search sites. Schrock tells the story of an incoming seminary student who spent 40 hours in one week looking for scholarships online: "He drafted a form letter, sent it in with every scholarship for which he applied, and by the time school began, his whole seminary education was paid for."

    Experts say all this work will pay off. "If you were to spend one hour each week for one month and received a $400 scholarship, you would have 'earned' $100 an hour," said April Powell, associate director of financial aid at Fresno Pacific University in Fresno, California. "How's that compared to an $8 an hour job?"

    Schrock also recommends that students have at least a part-time job before they begin their college search. Such employment will do three things: promote a good work ethic by demanding responsibility, motivate the student to persevere in college, and begin to provide income for school costs.

    "Many students leap for school loans because they require no immediate payoff and are easier to get," said Schrock. "Students who work and understand how hard it is to make money are more financially conservative and wise monetarily."

    2. Prudence

    But experts say you shouldn't just work hard, you should work smart, too. "Much work can result in nothing if it is done in the wrong place," Schrock said. "Someone digging for gold in a coal mine is not wrong in their labor, just in their location. Likewise, students who don't have much experience with financial aid should ask others who have blazed the trail before them."

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