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Scholarship info is a click away

Web is a great place to start the search for college funds

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If you're looking for ways to fund your interest in the study of bat-roosting behavior or anything else associated with the little flying mammals, you're in luck. There's a scholarship out there for you.

Even if your proudest achievement is that you're a resident of Pennsylvania who doesn't drink or smoke, you may be eligible for the TeeTotaling non-Athlete Scholarship — provided you're athletically inept.

These obscure scholarships are listed on at least one of the many scholarship databases available online to help students find money for college.

The problem is not a lack of scholarship information online. In fact, there's so much it's hard to navigate through it.

But even with all that information, do these online databases list every scholarship available?

No. But, according to experts, they are a great place to start.

"Scholarship dissemination is really imperfect," said Benjamin Kaplan, the 22-year-old author of "How to Go to College Almost for Free." He said, "There are hundreds and thousands of the awards worth billion of dollars, and they are not cataloged in one place."

So be prepared to look at a number of different sites, said Kaplan, a Harvard University graduate who has turned his ability for getting scholarships into a career.

In looking for a scholarship search site, students should steer clear of databases that charge.

"The best sites are free," Kaplan said. "They don't have access to better information just because they charge for it."

Students should also be wary of scholarships that charge application fees, said Laureen Grieve, vice president of content and community for Fast Web Inc., an online scholarship search company. She said her company does not include such scholarships in its database.

Most of the sites ask students to complete a questionnaire to pinpoint scholarships that match their profile. Kaplan said students should conduct several searches on the same site using different criteria to get the largest number possible

Kaplan said the sites are most successful in matching students with scholarships with clear-cut criteria such as grade-point average or ethnicity but have a hard time with personal characteristics like overcoming obstacles.

Students should be prepared for the fact that many of the scholarships on the databases are highly competitive, warned Young Shin, chief technology officer for Embark.com, a Web site that helps students with everything from selecting a college to figuring out how to pay for it.

Shin said these sites help level the playing field by giving everyone access to information. "But because of the Internet, an obscure scholarship that used to get a few applications now gets 10,000," he said.

Low-tech, grassroots approaches can help unearth lesser-known scholarships.

Experts suggest that students visit neighboring schools' guidance offices as well as their own, call local clubs and community organizations and contact parents' employers, because many have scholarships. Also, they should check in with banks because banks will know the scholarships they administer.

Another database is Wired Scholar, which launched in April. Wired Scholar (wiredscholar.com) is the scholarship search site for Sallie Mae, the giant student-loan and education-finance company. The service will return scholarship matches within three hours of submitting the questionnaire.

Wired Scholar spokeswoman Erin Love said the company has such obscure scholarships as the "Whirly Girl Helicopter Flight Training Scholarship" for women majoring in aviation and the "Dog Writer's Educational Trust Scholarship," for dog breeders who are majoring in either journalism or animal science.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.