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Ask Farnoosh: Best Scholarship Application Strategies

Victor Wong (@Kesjv817h) tweets: Any recommendations regarding good ways to apply for scholarships or grants for my daughter who will be a junior in HS this year?

We often hear that winning a scholarship is a numbers game. The wider net you cast, the better your chances of success. To that end, encourage your daughter to submit at least two or three applications per week for a whole season. (Yes, per week). This won’t be too difficult since scholarship applications tend to be quite similar. “You’ll want to think of the message you want to send in these materials — a lot of people just submit bland recommendations or essays that say ‘I am smart!’ but everyone does that and it’s lame,” writes Ramit Sethi on his blog, IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com. Sethi, who won more than $100,000 in scholarships, says writing about his entrepreneurial and business passions gave him an edge. Another tip, he says: “Make sure you tell recommenders what you want them to highlight by giving them your resume and a few key points that they should touch on in their recommendations. Most will be happy to do this.”

Start soon, too. Deadlines for the largest scholarship programs are usually in the fall or early January and February, says Marianne Ragins, president of The Scholarship Workshop. “Students shouldn’t wait until they actually get accepted to the school of their dreams to apply for scholarships,” she says.

Don’t ignore the smaller scholarships offered by local or regional organizations, either, says Ragins, who earned more than $400,000 in scholarships as a student. “Even though [these] scholarships may be for smaller amounts, they can add up, and ultimately wipe out a textbook bill or more,” she says. Plus, she adds, because fewer people apply for the smaller awards, they may be easier to land.

You can find scholarship opportunities from your high school guidance counselor and local librarian. Scholarship books from Princeton Review and Kaplan, along with online databases at Scholarships.com and Zinch.com, should lead you to countless opportunities, too.

K Canales Loza (@lkloza203) tweets: What are the best banks to go with these days? For personal & small business banking?

First, never be tempted to pick a bank simply because of a sweet promotional offer – whether it’s free cash when opening a savings account or the ability to have your college mascot featured on the credit card. Since your relationship with your bank may last several years you want to, first and foremost, pick a bank that offers convenience, low fees and great customer service.

They do exist, starting with community banks and credit unions. According to Bankrate.com, 72% of checking accounts at credit unions are free, compared to 39% at large banks. “Credit unions generally offer more consumer-friendly fee structures because they’re non-profit and don’t have to pay out to shareholders,” and therefore tend to charge lower fees, says Claes Bell, senior banking analyst with Bankrate.com. Similarly, online banks generally offer competitive fees thanks to fewer overhead costs. “Consider what types of transactions you make most often and look to see if the bank charges for them -- things like automatic bill pay, or point-of-sale fees for example,” says Bell.

You can search for credit unions in your area at culookup.com and asmarterchoice.org.

Among larger financial institutions and online banks, Money Magazine favored the following in a 2012 survey for their low fees and better-than-average savings rates:

•    National bank for checking: U.S. Bank
•    National bank for high balances: TD Bank  
•    Midsize/regional bank: Huntington Bank, First Citizens Bank, M&T Bank and Zions
•    Online bank: Ally Bank

Email your questions to me at FarnooshFinFit@yahoo.com or tweet me @Farnoosh