How to save on college costs

Applying early, locally recommended by Consumer Reports

SAN ANTONIO – With the cost of going to college rising every year, most families need financial assistance to send their children to the university of their choice. Consumer Reports found some ways to cut costs and reduce the number of loans students need to get their degree.

Marilu Duque did not want to graduate college deep in debt, so she started to apply for scholarships. It paid off and she got enough funding to take her through graduate school.

“I cried. I cried so hard. I was like, ‘This is everything I ever wanted,’” Duque said.

How likely is it that you’ll win a scholarship? Fairly decent, actually. Nearly half of families use scholarships for college, with scholarships and grants covering 35 percent of college costs.

Fewer than 1 percent of students get scholarships that cover the entire cost of tuition and room and board, but every penny counts.

To maximize your chances of getting a scholarship, Consumer Reports offers some strategies:

First, look to your future school. Colleges are one of the largest providers of grants and scholarships.

“You can increase your chances of getting merit aid by applying to schools where our test scores and grades are in the top 10 percent of the class, helping you stand out,” said Donna Rosato, Consumer Reports’ money editor.

Next, be strategic about what you apply for. Search for scholarships that match your experience and interests. Free websites such as Cappex, The College Board, Fastweb or Scholarships.com let you fill out a profile to identify what’s unique about you and then match you with potential scholarships.

Go big and apply for both national and local scholarships, Consumer Reports suggests.

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

It also pays to start looking for scholarships and grants early.

“I started in the eighth grade. Most people don’t start in the eighth grade,” Duque said.