By Eddie James
In the game of finding funding to meet educational costs, the key to winning a big award is research. Surprisingly, millions of dollars in aid from private funding sources go unawarded each year and, according to financial aid advisors, the reason is a lack of diligent student research into the many scholarships and grants available.
In the past few years, the number of organizations offering scholarships or grants to queer students has grown considerably, but because these organizations generally offer awards of less than $1500, many have opted not to advertise. Instead they're saving the advertising costs and putting the funds into more scholarships, relying on web pages, direct mail, and scholarship databases to get the word out. Without a clear understanding of the many resources available, queer students end up only applying for what is available through the federal government -- a funding source that is steadily shrinking.
The fact is, that college financial aid offices are so busy processing federal applications and dealing with their own institutional scholarships, that there is no way they can provide each student with long listings of the scholarships or grants in which they are eligible. And since colleges generally don't use sexual orientation as a criterion for awarding aid and most financial aid personnel are not trained in the often-crucial financial needs of queer students, queer students are often left in the dark as to what funding sources are available to them.
"Students don't always understand what the financial aid office actually does," says Mark Lindenmeyer, director of financial aid at Loyola College of Maryland. "Financial aid offices are mainly the coordinating agents for any financial assistance a student may receive. But our focus is on federal and institutional aid. We don't usually seek out private scholarships for individual students."
Byron P. McCrae, Coordinator of New York University's Office of LGBT Student Services says that financial aid is one of the major concerns of the queer students who come to his office. "Many students come out to their parents during their first few years of college. It doesn't happen often, but some parents stop paying for their child's education when they learn of their son or daughter's sexual orientation. The fear of parents cutting off financial support often keeps students in the closet. Many queer students are in desperate need of educational funding and don't realize that queer organizations and private donors are willing to help."
The often confusing and time-consuming nature of the financial aid process has made many students question whether it's even worth the effort to apply at all -- let alone filling out the extra paperwork involved in applying for private scholarships and grants. Financial aid officials agree that the process appears confusing at first, but strongly encourage students to apply for anything in which they think they might be eligible.
"Students think financial aid professionals are sitting on a pile of money and don't want to give it out," says Mary-Rina Schribner, a financial aid counselor at Maryland's Towson University. "We would love to see all students find the aid they need, but we are bound by federal regulations and have to follow the rules. Financial aid offices exist because of students. We are here to help families afford higher education, but students shouldn't put all their hopes for financial aid in the financial aid office. No one is going to do all the work for you.
There is money out there, you just have to put in the hours and find it."
Financial Aid officials offer the following tips to gay and lesbian students:
Do you have a financial aid tip for our readers? Any issues that you would like to see addressed in this column? Anything interesting going on at your school? Got any gripes, kudos, etc? Send them to Eddie James at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following is a listing of web sites that are good places to start your financial aid search. Sites with three stars contain information specifically related to queer students. Tip: Check out each web site listed in the gay and lesbian section even if you don't think you are eligible. Each site offers unique links to other sites and one of them may be just what you are looking for.
***The Financial Aid Information Page | http://www.finaid.org
***Minnesota Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Educational Fund | http://scc.net/~t-bonham/EDLINKS.HTM
***The Federal Student Aid Site | http://www.fafsa.ed.gov This is the place to file that pesky Free Form for Federal Financial Aid. Fill in this form NOW. The Department of Education has already started processing these forms. Sure, you can file later, but in the financial aid game, the early bird gets shown the money.
Fastweb Scholarship Search | http://www.fastweb.com/
Expan Scholarship Search | http://www.collegeboard.org/fundfinder/bin/fundfind01.pl
MOLIS Scholarship Search | http://www.fie.com/molis/scholar.htm
Aide for Academics | http://www.t3cyber.com/scholarships.html
Scholarship Resource Network | http://www.rams.com/srn/
Scholarships for Women and Minorities | http://members.aol.com/ox13qr/webpages/eyfswm1.html
Department of Defense Educational Highway | http://www.acq.osd.mil/ddre/edugate
Educaid | http://www.educaid.com/index_nn.htm
Remember, this is just a brief sampling of all the financial resources available on the web. For a more complete listing, type in "scholarships" in any search engine.
Kristen Pfaff Memorial Scholarship is a $1000 scholarship awarded annually through the year 2001 to queer students working toward their educational goals and active in the arts. The application can be found at http://www.buffalomusic.org/community/Kristen_Pfaff.html
The National Scholarship Fund for Gay and Lesbian Studies was founded in March 1993 to award scholarships to graduate students in any field of study who have identified a thesis or dissertation project which contributes to the study of Gay and Lesbian culture. They don't have a web site, but you can contact them at: The National Scholarship Fund for Gay and Lesbian Studies 167 Milk Street, Suite 154 Boston, MA 02109-4315 Or phone at (617) 424-6559 or (617) 438-7848
An Uncommon Legacy Foundation. Inc. The purpose of this program is to provide awards to support projects that address lesbian social, cultural, and educational needs as well as civil rights and well being. The scholarship amount is $1,000 and the deadline is May 1. More information can be found at http://www.uncommonlegacy.org/