By TamaraIf you are getting ready to go to college soon, you know the routine; submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), complete financial aid applications from your prospective schools, and search everywhere for free money for college. In the past, ‘free money’ usually implied searching for scholarships, but not anymore. Today’s college students are reaching out to complete strangers through the use of crowd funding to help cover everything from tuition to study abroad trips. While the majority of crowd funding sites originated with the idea of helping charities or people in severe need (life-threatening illness or devastation from a natural disaster), many are now seeing an increase in campaigns specifically designed to help students pay for college. The premise is simple; tell your story and get people to donate. The most successful campaigns include a compelling story, pictures and a limited time to donate, but where do you start? Here’s a sampling of what’s currently available. 1. YouCaring.com This website was originally funded by a ‘generous donor’ and is now supported by donations. Unlike most of the other crowd funding sites, YouCaring.com does not charge a service fee to use its platform. Users must create a PayPal account, as any donations (minus the PayPal transaction fee) received are immediately deposited into the account. Campaigns can run for a maximum of 120 days and users can easily share their page on Facebook and Twitter. 2. GoFundMe.com On May 10, 2010, GoFundMe.com launched its crowd funding website. Since that date, it has shown tremendous growth and has helped thousands of people raise money. The website is easy to use and can easily be shared on Facebook and Twitter. Users are charged a five percent (5%) fee per transaction, as well as the customary WePay or PayPal fees. Users can withdraw any or all of their donations at any time during their campaign. 3. MicroGiving.com Founded in 2007, MicroGiving.com is a non-profit organization funded by corporate sponsors. Depending upon the type of campaign, users are assessed either a five percent (5%) service fee (financial hardship campaigns) or a 10 percent (10%) fee (all other campaigns), in addition to a three percent (3%) credit card processing fee. Campaigns must run for a minimum of 30 days, but no longer than 90 days. Users cannot withdraw funds until the end of the campaign ($50 minimum required). While these websites allow for both personal and charitable fundraising, newcomer ScholarshipProz.com recently launched its Beta version, specifically designed for students raising money for post-secondary education. Students can create a campaign for any college-related expense and must notify their financial aid office about any funds received. Payment is sent to the student at the end of the campaign after a 10 percent (10%) service fee (added to the donor’s bill) and credit card processing fees have been deducted. ScholarshipProz.com expects to have a fully-functional website available by August 10, 2012. Until the website receives more media attention, however, it’s doubtful that ScholarshipProz.com will be able to generate the funding amassed by GoFundMe.com or YouCaring.com. If you are considering a crowd funding campaign to help pay for your college education, be sure you provide documentation to verify your need; donors are more willing to help students who honestly need a little help and are not just looking for a handout. Utilize social media to help spread the word about your campaign, as this will also help attract donors to your page, and remember to thank anyone who donates. Also, be prepared to have a back-up plan, just in case you fall short of your goal. While crowd funding may seem like a great way to raise money for college, it’s really a gamble as to whether or not you’ll be successful. Personally, I’d rather spend more time finding free money for college the old-fashioned way – applying for scholarships!