Q. Where does financial aid come from?
A. Ninety-five percent is administered through the financial aid office at the college where a student attends. Most of it comes from the Federal government, with a significant slice from colleges' own funds and a small fraction from the state government. Most of the five percent that doesn't come through the financial aid office is given by private corporations to sons and daughters of employees. A small fraction of it is offered to the general public through scholarship contests and other awards.
Q. What about the unclaimed billions?
A. Let's think for a minute. How many families do you know who brag about finding billions in unclaimed aid? And if these sources are really so secret, why has the same sales pitch been airing since the 1970s? The people who make these claims are either lying with statistics, or just plain lying. Most of the money they cite is set aside for the possibility that someone in a special group will claim it. As an example, some private corporations grant scholarships to sons and daughters of employees who are National Merit Finalists. Suppose a company offers $10,000 scholarships to a maximum of ten students per year, but maybe there are only three who qualify. Presto: $70,000 of unclaimed aid. Q. What about the national scholarships, like Coca-Cola and Tandy?
A. National scholarship contests are unbelievably competitive -- tougher than getting into Harvard. For most students, a better strategy is to look locally. The school counselor will probably have a list or know where to get one. If not, check with area foundations or civic groups. You can always search the scholarship books and databases for private awards, and you may get lucky and find an endowment for Concert Harpists from Montana or Second Generation Ukranian Glassblowers. But awards like these are not plentiful and usually amount to no more than a few hundred dollars.