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How to maximize the chances of receiving a college scholarship

Posted November 16, 2017 3:53 p.m. EST
Updated November 16, 2017 6:14 p.m. EST

Once a student gets into college, reality hits. It's expensive.

Students currently owe a combined $1.45 trillion in student loans.

Marilú Duque knew she did not want to end up in serious debt, so she applied for scholarship money, which will now take her through graduate school.

"I cried. I cried so hard. I was like, 'This is everything I ever wanted,'" she said.

November is National Scholarship Month and the fall is the best season to apply for scholarships, according to experts.

Almost half of families use scholarships to help pay for college. Along with grants, they cover 35 percent of college costs.

Consumer Reports suggests some strategies to maximize the chances of receiving a scholarship:

First, look into the school. Colleges are one of the largest providers of grants and scholarships.

"You can increase your chances of getting merit aid by applying to a school where your test scores and grades are in the top 10 percent of the class, helping you stand out," said Donna Rosato with Consumer Reports.

Experts also say it is good to be strategic. Search and apply for scholarships that match experience and interests. Free websites, such as Cappex, The College Board, Fastweb and Scholarships.com allow a student to fill out a profile and identity potential scholarships.

Third, apply to both national and local scholarships.

"National scholarships offer more money, but your odds of snagging a local one may be better because you're likely to be competing against fewer students," Rosato said.

And it pays to start early. Experts recommend keeping a running list of scholarship applications, requirements and deadlines.