The brackets will soon be set in stone for college basketball's 64, with the March Madness countdown to the Sweet 16 and the Final Four, but how about the money you need to foot that tuition bill?

Now that the college acceptance letters are beginning to roll in, The College Whisperer is amazed by just how many college-bound students abandon the search for money to pay for college.

Sure, you've filed your FAFSA (hopefully), and registered at Fastweb and other scholarship search engines, but has your quest for college cash ended there?

Visit and revisit those college scholarship search engines. Tweak your profile. Keep an eye out for emails containing links to scholarship opportunities. And, for goodness sake, don't just look at the search sites, actually apply for the scholarships for which you qualify!

Too many students quit the search for college money once they've been accepted. Shame, because while others choose to sit back and coast into college with little in the bank to show for it, the astute (that would be you, wouldn't it?) are continuing to look for grants, scholarships, and free (or at least, inexpensive) money to help pay the ever-rising costs associated with going to college.

Okay. We know the routine. The searches get tedious. Keep searching. The good scholarships are few and far between. Keep applying. I haven't gotten any money yet. Keep digging!

Utilize all available resources -

Your Guidance Counselor. Okay, the application process may be over (though many colleges offer rolling admission, so if you haven't applied yet, there may still be time), but new scholarships flow into the Guidance Office daily. Ask your counselor about available scholarship opportunities. Seize the moment. Apply!

Your Community. Canvass community groups, local businesses, and civic-minded organizations. From Kiwanis to Lions, civic associations to PTA, there are scholarship opportunities right in your own backyard. Seek them out. Apply!

Your Computer. It doesn't get any easier. You don't even have to change out of your pajamas to search for scholarships (just make sure the webcam is off ;-). Use Google, or your fav search engine, to seek out college scholarships. Register. Complete the profiles, and do so accurately and completely. Apply!

Your College Websites. Already decided upon a college? Narrowed down your choices to a select few? Great! Now check the college websites. Scholarship opportunities, as well as Work Study, and other sources of funding, can often be found under "Financial Aid," or simply, "Paying For College." To qualify for institutional aid, sometimes all you have to do is submit your FAFSA. Other aid options, including certain scholarships and grants, require separate application, typically available on the college website. Apply!

As with any search for money (and the fundraising professionals know this quite well), if you don't ask, you won't get! Ask you Guidance Counselor. Ask a college financial aid officer. Ask your independent college counselor. If all else fails, Ask Jeeves.

Not satisfied with the financial aid award offered by the college you plan to attend? Ask for a review. [Most colleges have an appeal process.] Negotiate. You can often -- but not always -- get a better package. Again, it never hurts to ask.

The college experience presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Don't let the price tag get in the way of going to the college of your choice
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