Consumer Reports: Tips to getting college scholarships

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.

And her efforts were worth it, she got enough funding to take her all the way through graduate school.

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% of college costs.

Though less than 1% 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 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% 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.

Free websites like 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 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.