Few families can cover the skyrocketing cost of college outright. Luckily, there are more than 7 million scholarships available to help.
But wading through the options can be overwhelming. Enter free search sites, like Tuition Funding Sources, which help students find the most desirable kind of assistance — money that does not have to be paid back.
"Schools have made it so easy to borrow money, but the free money is the ticket," said Richard Sorensen, the president of Tuition Funding Sources, a search site for higher education funding.
Some students and parents are catching on. This year, scholarships were the single most-used resource to pay for an undergraduate's college bill, according to the 11th annual "How America Pays for College" report from student loan corporation Sallie Mae.
"In most cases, the reason students don't get scholarships is because they don't try heard enough," Sorensen said.
To maximize your chance at scoring free money, answer all of the profile questions — even optional ones, such as your height, for example, Sorensen said. You just might find that you qualify for an award.
Robert Franek, The Princeton Review's editor-in-chief and author of "Colleges That Pay You Back," advises students to look for scholarships locally, particularly from organizations in their community, where the odds of nabbing an award are better than national competitions.
"But, above all, we say never let a scholarship search cost you the time you need to spend doing your homework, getting good grades in school and prepping to score your best on college admission exams," he added. "These efforts are far more likely to pay off."
For those that want to reach for the stars, here are a few of the more obscure awards currently available:
1. Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest
Application Deadline: June 3, 2019
Award Amount: $10,000
High school students must create and wear promwear made from Duck Brand duct tape and/or crafting tape, then upload a photo in their creation during prom season and vote online for the best dressed. Winners in best dress and best tux each receive $10,000.