Students should also inquire with their employer (or with their parents' employer). Skilled student workers are at a premium in today's tight labor market, and some employers may be willing to chip in for college costs in exchange for a commitment from the student to continue working there in succeeding summers.
Sometimes the tuition bill blues hit hardest after a couple of years in college. The task of finding aid is even more difficult for returning students than first-timers because colleges use most of their dollars to lure new prospects. But all may not be lost. Returning students should check with the department or college of their major, which often sponsor small awards for those who perform with distinction in the classroom.
Students should also tap their college affiliations, such as social fraternities or service organizations. Got a membership in Key Club? Check out the awards offered by Kiwanis International. Rotary International has more than 1,300 scholarships, including many for students already in college.
One cautionary note: beware of direct mail solicitations for free financial aid "seminars," or promises to reveal the secret hiding place for the college pot of gold. Unsolicited offers like these are the stuff of scam artists and charlatans out for to make a fast buck.
For families who still have some time before the college bills hit, the key to remember is that nearly 95 percent of college money comes through the process of applying for admission and financial aid at a college. Some colleges offer great need-based aid; others emphasize scholarships based on academic merit or and other criteria. Smart families play the field and hedge their bets by applying to a range of colleges.