Students should begin searching for and applying for scholarships at least as early as their junior year because many scholarships have deadlines in the fall of the senior year, Kaplan said. Applying for scholarships early also will help students hone their college application skills, he added.
There are scholarships available from countless colleges, civic organizations, nonprofit agencies, fraternal lodges, trade associations, corporations and individuals. And there are scholarships that reward students for everything from academic achievement to musical ability to overcoming obstacles in life to being the descendants of veterans, Kaplan said.
"I think people would be very surprised by not only the number of available scholarships but the type of scholarships available," he said.
The "Star Trek" fans of the Klingon Language Institute (www.kli.org) offer scholarships for students who show an appreciation of language; another organization gives money to students who can sew and model a garment made of wool; a nude sunbathing society even awards scholarships to students who submit winning essays about nudism, Kaplan said.
"I think the key is, if you have a preconceived notion about only certain scholarships being available, you're probably wrong," he said.
Don't neglect smaller local scholarships, which can both add up to big college savings and boost chances of netting bigger scholarships, Kaplan and Moore said. Most individuals do overlook these scholarships, so you have a greater chance of winning them, Moore said.
"There's a snowball effect. When you win a couple of smaller ones, it's easier to win the larger ones because you can use them as credentials on other applications," Kaplan said. "That's another good reason to apply early."
Databases and school counselors
The Web can be an invaluable resource for researching scholarship opportunities. Numerous Web sites - including Kaplan's own www.scholarshipcoach.com - offer scholarship databases that users can search based upon criteria they specify in the databases' online questionnaires. Kaplan recommends searching at least 10 databases because no one database is comprehensive.
It's also important to set up an appointment with a high school guidance counselor or scholarship coordinator. Many scholarships are sent directly to schools, so you want the counselor to know who you are and what types of scholarships you might qualify for, Kaplan said. Demonstrate your seriousness by showing up at your meeting with a printout of results from your Internet searches, he said.
Students should remain in touch with the school counseling center for updated information about scholarships because the list of available awards constantly changes, Moore said.
Don't just rely on your own school's resources, Kaplan said. A really determined scholarship hunter will visit the guidance office at other high schools for scholarship leads - one of the scholarship "guerrilla tactics" that he suggests in his newest book. Moore suggested that Washington County scholarship hunters contact Carolyn Cox at Hagers-town Community College's financial aid office, 301-790-2800, ext. 220, for information about scholarship opportunities.
And look for scholarship chances in magazines and newspapers, inquire at businesses, and look around the customer service areas in stores, Moore said. Most major businesses have some type of scholarship program. If they don't, your questions might inspire them to start one, he said.
"Ask everyone and everywhere," Moore said. "Dig, dig, dig. There is scholarship money out there. You might surprise yourself with what you can get."