SAN ANTONIO – If you have a teenager and are thinking about college costs, now is the time to think about scholarships, too.
Consumer Reports has some strategies to maximize your chances of landing one.
Marilu Duque knew she didn't want to end up deep in debt from college loans, which is why she started to apply for scholarships.
Duque's efforts were worth it because she got enough funding to take her all the way 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 scholarship cash?
Almost half of all families use scholarships for college, with scholarships and grants covering 35 percent of college costs. Although less than 1 percent of students get scholarships that cover the entire cost of tuition and room and board, every penny counts.
Consumer Reports says first, look at 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 your test scores and grades are in the top 10 percent of the class, helping you stand out," said Donna Rosato, of Consumer Reports.
Consumer Reports suggests being strategic about what you apply for. Spend your time searching for scholarships that match your experience and interests. Free websites like Cappex, 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 small by applying for 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 of course, it pays to start early.
The experts said one thing you should keep in mind is the application deadline. Keep a list of each scholarship, its requirements, and its due date. Many organizations offer a lot of money and a missed deadline is definitely a missed opportunity.