GREENSBORO, N.C. — The best loans are the ones you don't have to pay back. And your chances of getting a scholarship are better than you may think. 

Nearly half of families use scholarships for college. Between those and grants, it usually covers about a third of costs. Less than 1% of students get scholarships that cover the entire cost of tuition, room, and board.
So you need to maximize your chances of getting scholarship money. Try these tricks: 

  • Increase your chances of getting merit aid by applying to schools where your test scores and grades are in the top 10% of the class, helping you stand out.
  • Be strategic about what you apply for. Spend your time searching for scholarships that match your experience and interests. Free websites like Cappex, The College Board, Fastweb or let you fill out a profile to identify what's unique about you, and then match you with potential scholarships.
  • Go big and small. Apply to 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. 
  • And start early. Some students start looking at scholarships as early as 8th grade.