•Start clipping. Now is when short blurbs about students who win scholarships pop up in local newspapers and free handouts. Read them. If someone's won a scholarship that sounds like a good fit, clip it, find out details about it and apply later in the year.
•Talk to school officials. Some of the best scholarships require a nomination from your school. Make sure your college counselor is familiar with your accomplishments, especially the things you've done outside school. Some counselors ask parents to fill out "brag sheets" that list their students' accomplishments, because counselors can't know everything a student is doing.
If your counselor doesn't have such a form, it's a good idea to type a list of activities and major accomplishments and offer it.
Mary Maslar is college counselor for The Charter School of Wilmington, a Delaware high school where 70% of the senior class won scholarships or grants last year. She tells students, "It does not pay to be modest and hold back in terms of sharing about your life at this point."
•Ferret out lesser-known local scholarships. If your high school posts local scholarship information on its website, check it. Then, check other area high schools' sites. If you are a standout in math, check local math magnet schools' sites. If you starred in your school play, check the sites of area schools known for their strong drama programs.
• Let free search sites do the work. The best scholarship sites have cost calculators and scholarship wizards that do much of the heavy lifting. Jack Millis, director of student financing at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., recommends FinAid.org and FastWeb.com, both free.
After you sign up, FastWeb will send new scholarships that fit your profile all year long and even remind you when deadlines are approaching. Millis suggests students put thought into their FastWeb forms so they cast a wide net for scholarships.