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By now, many high school seniors have finished their college applications and are waiting for results. That means it is time to start thinking about how a family or individual is going to pay for it.

Some financial aid is awarded based on need, while other scholarships may be based on merit, a special skill or even an essay on a particular topic.

Better Business Bureau, which awards a Student of Ethics scholarship, reminds students and parents most scholarship information is available for free.

High school guidance counselors often can help students search for information on scholarships based on their talents, academic achievements, essay contests or other merit-based aid. Information on many awards is available online or at public or school libraries.

Companies may offer to assist in finding aid, but BBB advises students to be wary of websites, seminars or other schemes that promise to find scholarships, grants or financial aid packages for a fee. The companies may promise a money-back guarantee, but they set so many conditions it is almost impossible to get a refund. Others tell students they have been selected as finalists but that they have to pay a fee to be eligible for the award. Advance fees often are a sign the award is not legitimate.

Legitimate companies can help students find aid, but they will never guarantee results. However, parents and students usually can find the same awards and others on their own by searching online or going to the library.

Most colleges that award need-based financial aid require students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which the schools use to determine a student's financial need. Parents or students can complete the FAFSA online. More information is available online or by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID.

BBB advises students to:

Take your time. Do not be rushed into paying for help at a seminar. Be cautious if a representative urges you to buy now to avoid losing an opportunity.

Be cautious if a company is reluctant to answer any questions you have about the service or the process. If the company or seminar representative is evasive, walk away.

Ask your guidance counselor or a college financial aid office whether they have experience with the company.

Be skeptical of glowing success stories touted on websites or at seminars. Ask instead for the names of families in your community who have used the service in the last year. Talk to them and find out about their experience with the firm.

Ask about fees associated with a professional financial aid search and find out if the company provides refunds. Get the information in writing, but realize the dishonest companies may refuse to provide refunds despite stated policies.

Beware of letters or emails saying you have been selected to receive a scholarship for a contest you never entered.

Investigate any company that you consider using to help find aid. Check the company's BBB Business Profile at or by calling 573-886-8965.

Information on BBB's Mid-Missouri Student of Ethics award is available online at

Sean Spence is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.

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