Marilú Duque knew she didn't want to end up deep in debt from college loans. That's why she started to apply for scholarships.
Her efforts were worth it. 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 recalled.
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How likely is it that you'll win scholarship cash? Fairly decent, actually. Almost half of families use scholarships for college, with scholarships and grants covering 35 percent of college costs.
Though 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 you should use these smart strategies to maximize your chances of getting scholarship money.
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 your 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. Spend your time searching for scholarships that match your experience and interests.
Go big and small. 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 of course, it pays to start early.
"I started in 8th grade, most people don't start in 8th grade," Duque 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.
A missed deadline is definitely a missed opportunity.
Last year, NBC 5 Responds shared the story of Gabrielle McCormick, a local student who scored more than $150,000 in college scholarships.
From a former athlete to a scholarship connoisseur, McCormick said not only is the money is there, it's everywhere. And she's here to help North Texans find it.