Uncle Sam is not the only source of financial aid for needy college students and their families. Private scholarships and loans are good bets to supplement programs offered by the federal government.
Private aid is offered everywhere: by service organizations like Rotary International, the National 4-H Council, the Elks Foundation and the Kiwanis Club and by public and private corporations. In addition, scholarships are available through many religious and veterans' groups like the Knights of Columbus and the American Legion.The competition is tough for private scholarships. However, qualified applicants who are willing to spend the time and effort in locating them will be rewarded with a large list of programs.
And to get by with a little help from your friends, the American Legion produces "Need a Lift," an annual nationwide list of available scholarships and cooperative programs. "Need a Lift" costs only $1 and can be obtained through your local Legion chapter or by contacting: The American Legion, National Emblem Sales, P.O. Box 1050, Indianapolis, IN 46206; (17) 635-8411.
The Legion also holds an annual public speaking competition with scholarship prizes of up to $16,000.
Even more sources of private aid can be located through Octameron Associates. They offer a number of informative pamphlets priced between $2.75 and $4.50 and can be reached at: Octameron Associates, P.O. Box 3437, Alexandria, VA 22302; (03) 823-1882.
Then there are the colleges themselves. More than 85 percent of the nation's four-year colleges offer academic scholarships and private grants, ranging from $200 to $18,000. Ask at your school's financial aid office.
Though most schools offer help, be forewarned, interested students outnumber the scholarships. "We get about 20 students a week coming in here to look at a limited number of scholarships," said Linda Conant, a financial aid officer at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
A good strategy to winning a scholarship is getting good grades - while many of the scholarships are based on need, there is a growing trend to use them to attract bright students. So work hard during high school, and make sure the record shows it. High ACT or SAT test scores also will help.
Students can increase their scholarship chances by pursuing technical and scientific studies. The American economy needs technical students and scholarship assistance for them is increasing rapidly.
Each year Westinghouse Electric Corporation holds a contest for high school students who have displayed talent in the sciences. The scholarship prizes range from $1,000 to $20,000.
Some corporations offer technical scholarships requiring the student to work at the company during summers and after graduation. These programs are almost exclusively for technical, engineering and computer science students.
Many different professional organizations, from the Institute of Food Technologists to the International Chiropractors Association, offer scholarships and grants to students interested in those fields. Students with a particular career in mind can contact the corresponding professional organization, or someone in the profession, to find out what is available.
Corporations often help their own. Companies such as Dow Chemical, General Foods and Procter & Gamble offer scholarships for the children of employees.
They also feature competitions in the sciences or other fields. For instance, IBM's Watson Scholarship, available only to employees, their spouses and children, offers $8,000 to $16,000 to recipients. Parents can find out if their companies have in-house programs by contacting the personnel office.
A number of military groups, such as the First Marines and the Twenty-Fifth Infantry, have established private scholarship programs for the children of those who served or are serving with those divisions. Groups such as the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association (ietnam combat pilots), the Women's Marines Association, and the Air Force Aid Society offer grants, scholarships and loans to students in need who have parents, or sometimes grandparents, who served.
Private loans are another option for students. In 1987, the U.S. Department of Education announced the start of a new private-sector loan program run by a non-profit organization, ConSern, based in Washington, D.C. By the end of 1988, ConSern estimates it will have made about $80 million in loans to approximately 16,000 students.
To qualify for a ConSern loan, candidates must be attending a college, university or trade school - or even a primary or secondary school, if need is shown. Loans need not be used for tuition or room and board, but for a variety of educational needs, including lab equipment or a computer.
Currently, students can apply directly, but ConSern is marketing the program through participating businesses and organizations, such as clubs, professional societies and chambers of commerce. Eventually, a student, or a student's parents, will have to belong to a sponsoring organization to get the loans.
Under the ConSern loan program, students can borrow up to $15,000 per year, to a maximum total of $60,000. The minimum loan is $1,500. Loans are made by the National Bank of Washington at a variable interest rate pegged three points above the commercial paper rate. (his rate is printed in most U.S. daily newspapers.) There is a 15-year repayment schedule. Loan candidates must also undergo a credit check.
"We expect many institutions to participate nationwide. For example, credit unions have shown interest in offering the program as a member benefit," a ConSern spokesman said.
To contact ConSern, write: The Student Loan Program, 1717 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Suite 101, Washington, D.C. 20036. Or phone: (02) 234-2985.
There are numerous programs available for the ambitious student. The bottom line to financing college: Do your homework.
Reader questions will be answered and may appear in this column, when mailed to Gary S. Meyers at 20 West Hubbard St., Chicago, IL 60610.