To get a college scholarship, you don't have to be a reformed prostitute, a Jewish orphan with an interest in aeronautics or a golf caddy who's willing to work at a few tournaments.
But if you do happen to be one of the above, you're in luck.
Hundreds of obscure college scholarships are available stipulating similar odd requirements. And thousands of others are more applicable to the general population. Scholarships range in size from very small amounts to full tuition plus spending money. The trick is finding them.
That's where scholarship-finding businesses come into the picture. With college tuition often rising higher than the inflation rate, students are turning to these businesses -- over the objections of many college counselors -- to identify financial options.
These businesses are independently owned operations that tap into computerized data bases full of scholarship information. They buy marketing materials from the data base proprietor and pay a fee for each scholarship search request.
For a fee that can range from $39 to $200, students can hire one of the businesses to locate scholarship opportunities. Students fill out a questionnaire, which is then mailed to the central data base. The data base lists scholarship opportunities that match the student's profile. In a few weeks, the student receives the list and is then responsible for applying for the scholarships.
About six main data bases nationwide have networks that license businesses to do these searches, says Mark Cohen, who founded Academic Guidance Services, a scholarship data base service in New Jersey, in 1975.
Mr. Cohen says computer data bases can locate scholarships more efficiently and productively than students can on their own.
In the Seattle area, Academic Pathfinders, which is licensed by Academic Guidance Services, opened three months ago under the direction of Connie Getchman. She has had only three clients, but she says she is optimistic that business will grow.
Like some other data base proprietors, Academic Guidance Services guarantees it will locate a certain number of scholarship leads for the student. Ms. Getchman charges between $39 and $79, depending on the search. If a student pursues each lead and still cannot find at least $200 in funding, Academic Guidance will give the student a $200 savings bond.
But Ms. Getchman says not all area high schools and college counselors share her attitude. Some rebuff offers from her company to find scholarship money for students, preferring to use their own resources.
Several college financial-aid counselors acknowledge this, saying that they discourage students from using scholarship-finding businesses and that they have reservations about how useful the services are.