Tavia Evans barely knew what the internet was, let alone how to use it, until her junior year of high school. But the honor student decided to try her luck online anyway as she searched for college cash, plugging in phrases such as “African-American scholarships” to see what would pop up.
A year later, Evans had surfed her way to $22,000 worth of scholarships.
Evans, now a junior at Northwestern University, is one of millions of students who have turned to the internet as an easy way to find financial help for college. As high school graduates get hit with the reality of paying for college during the next few months, the companies that run free scholarship databases are bracing for a frenzy of activity.
“It’s just amazing and at times gut-wrenching how desperate kids and parents are for funds,” said Larry Gerber, president of Scholarships.com LLC, a company that offers a free database of more than 600,000 scholarships.
Sites such as Gerber’s are fast replacing traditional bulletin boards or visits to a high school counselor. Students simply type in information about themselves, their families, their hobbies, and their grades, and wait for a list of scholarships that match their profiles.
Evans used FastWeb, one of the oldest and largest scholarship databases. The site matched the St. Louis native with national William Randolph Hearst and Coca-Cola scholarships; she applied and eventually won both.
“Would I have found these otherwise? I don’t think so,” Evans said.
Most of the large, well-established databases are free. Revenues come either from advertisements on the sites or marketing links that allow students to “opt in” and receive information on everything from college loan rates to online textbook companies.
Often, the free sites contain warnings about scholarship scams or companies that promise to find students moneyfor a price.
“If somebody wants to charge you money to do a scholarship search, read the fine print,” said Rebecca Dixon, associate provost for university enrollment at Northwestern University.
Like many other universities, Northwestern includes links to scholarship web sites on its financial-aid home page. Dixon said the university chose the few sites it mentions based on their good reputations.
Scholarship providers credit use of the sites for an explosion in applications in the past several years.
“If you really want to give away money, you’re going to have more and more students coming to you from web-based resources,” said Mark Davis, president of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation in Atlanta.
The foundation received 48,000 applications when it started in 1989. By last year, that number had soared to 137,000, Davis said.
Some small scholarship providers are overwhelmed by the attention and even complain about the cost of sending out so much information, Gerber said. Others, like Coca-Cola, have begun accepting applications online to cut down on their costs.
Students shouldn’t expect the web sites to do all their work. They still have to fill out applications, write essays, or go through interviews before they can get the awards.
Even so, students and parents are amazed when they find out they can tap into more than $1 billion worth of aid simply by spending a few minutes filling out a profile online, said Mark Rothschild, senior vice president of FastWeb.
“The awareness of students in using the internet for this sort of thing has grown massively,” Rothschild said. “I think it’s been amazing.”
UCLA’s link to free scholarship web sites
Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation