By Kristina Dooley, M.A. Estrela Consulting Article provided by Estrela Consulting Beautiful campus, check. Excellent majors, check. A way to pay for it, oh boy. Though most high school seniors are in the throes of the college application process at this point in the year, their parents are no doubt thinking much further ahead to the tuition bills that are forthcoming. Though seemingly far off, it will soon be what school folks refer to woefully as “Financial Aid Season.” Financial Aid Season officially begins on January 1st, the first day on which families can submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is used to determine how much need-based aid a family should be eligible for, as well as their Expected Family Contribution (EFC). However, those in the know begin the search for outside aid much earlier. Outside aid is made up of any non-federal award that a student receives toward their higher education costs. These awards are based on a variety of specific criteria determined by the organization sponsoring the award. The easiest method to search for outside awards is to head to the Web. Several well-established scholarship search engines can provide easy access to the thousands of awards given out each year. FastWeb is one of the most reputable scholarship search sites, and has been used by more than 34 million people in the past 15 years. FastWeb allows users to complete a biographical profile and academic/interests inventory that are used to help the site search through its scholarship database and direct users to appropriate awards. Once a person completes a profile, FastWeb will continually notify that student about any new scholarships that match their profile. It’s then the responsibility of the student to pursue awards of interest. Other sites that allow users to search through databases of current opportunities available include Scholarships.com and FinancialAidFinder. It’s important to note that ALL scholarship applications should be free of charge. If a listing includes a fee for applying, it’s most likely a scam, even if it’s just $1. Now, for the fun stuff. Everyone has heard of outlandish scholarships that are offered for things such as being left-handed (It’s true! Check out the Juniata College (PA) Frederick and Mary F. Beckley Scholarship for southpaws). It’s also a fact that if your last name happens to be Baxendale, Hudson, Thayer, Downer or Bright, Harvard has a scholarship for you. If you’re one of a pair you should check out the scholarships for twins at Lake Erie College (OH), Carl Albert State College (OK), or Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College. Here are a few lesser-known, and creative, awards that you might also want to consider: The Life in a Flying House Scholarship is sponsored by Clements International, an insurance company for expats. Applicants must be ages 12-18 and have spent at least two years living outside their home country to be eligible. The contest offers three awards ranging from $500-$3,000 and are awarded based on an essay and creative media contest (including photography, paintings, or video) in which participants share their experiences of living in a foreign country. For those students who have a raging sweet tooth, the American Association of Candy Technologists (AACT) sponsors the John Kitt Memorial Scholarship, a $5,000 award for students with a “demonstrated interest in confectionery technology.” How might one measure this, you ask? You don’t have to surround yourself with Oompa Loompa’s, but you do have to be a college sophomore, junior or senior majoring in food science, chemical science, or biological science at an accredited North American university. Looking for a more relaxing scholarship? Then try the Tea Council of the USA’s “Calm-a-Sutra of Tea” competition. Entrants must create an original, one- to two-minute video about a unique or creative way to drink tea, along with a message about the health benefits of tea (no specific brands may be mentioned). After uploading the video to YouTube, entrants then submit the link along with their scholarship application to the folks at the Tea Council. Applicants must be at least 16 years of age and a legal resident of the U.S. or Puerto Rico. The winning video earns the creator a “steep” $15,000 award! Scholarship searches can be time consuming. Students should start as early as their sophomore or junior year as many applications have early senior-year deadlines. However daunting this process can be, the rewards make it worth the effort…happy hunting! Author Bio: Kristina Dooley, M.A., is the founder and President of Estrela Consulting, an independent educational consulting firm specializing in college and boarding school admission. Kristina has extensive experience in college placement having worked professionally in college admission prior to becoming an independent consultant in São Paulo, Brazil. Each year Kristina spends several weeks visiting campuses across the U.S. and Canada and is an Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association. In addition, Kristina holds membership in the Higher Education Consultants Association and the Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling.