By tamaraEach year, as students begin the process of applying to college, many come face-to-face with the harsh reality of what it actually costs to earn a degree. Some may have an inkling of how the expenses add up (tuition, room & board, lab fees, books and more), but most don’t really grasp the total cost until they receive their college financial aid letters. Hopefully, you have some college savings stashed away, and maybe you began your search for scholarships as soon as you entered high school with the help of a free scholarship matching service like ScholarshipExperts.com. If not, we hope you haven’t pinned all your paying-for-college hopes on just one source: the ever-elusive full-ride scholarship. Don’t get us wrong…full-ride scholarships do exist; but it appears that there are only about 20,000 full-ride awards provided by colleges each year. If there are 20.4 million students attending college in the United States, that means only about .1% of all college students receive institutional full-ride scholarships each year (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009). Many of these full-ride scholarship programs are highly competitive, too, and to be considered, students often must have grade point averages above 3.75 and SAT scores well above 1400. Some scholarship programs have additional eligibility requirements, too, like state residency qualifications or having a minority status. It’s also commonly known that there are even fewer private full-ride scholarships available; some estimate that there are only about 250 private scholarship programs that cover the full bill at college. A couple of the better known full-ride programs include the Gates Millennium Scholars Program and the Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship. Even with these generous private scholarship programs in existence, however, your chances of receiving a full-ride scholarship are still very slim. All students should plan ahead and cover all bases by applying to several types of scholarship programs with varying prize amounts. Submit applications to several smaller private scholarship programs to help cover your college expenses, and also apply to those offered in your state and at your schools of choice. And always, always, always file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (the FAFSA) to see if there are any federal financial aid dollars that you may be eligible to receive. By spreading out your application efforts and stacking your scholarship award strategy across federal, state, institutional and private sources of funding, you just may be able to secure enough free money to cover most of your college expenses.