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Paying for college is a luxury that few individuals or families can afford these days. Expenses for tuition, books, and room and board can be astronomical and often leads to deep personal debt from student loans. One of the best ways to save money when it comes to obtaining your degree is to earn scholarships that will pay for some or all of your education. Scholarship money can save you thousands of dollars every year.

1. Academic Performance

Simply put, good grades and test scores are one of the most direct routes toward a scholarship. If your high school GPA is high, you have a better chance of obtaining financial awards from colleges. A high GPA also helps you to rank higher within your graduating class, which looks good on scholarship applications.

Your performance on academic tests such as the SAT and the ACT also has a tremendous impact on your scholarship eligibility. These tests give colleges a hint as to what your academic aptitude or abilities may be. Ideally, good grades, a high-class ranking, and high standardized test scores combined are your best bet for receiving a large college scholarship or possibly a free education.

2. Athletic Performance

Athletics are major money-makers for colleges, which helps to explain why there are many athletic scholarships available to colleges across the country. If you perform well at one or more sports, talk with your coaches about investigating the possibility of getting a scholarship. Coaches can network with college personnel who handle athletic scholarships.

You'll also want to maintain a consistent level of performance in your sport. College scouts often visit high school games and tournaments to look for potential talent, so it’s important to put forth your best effort at every competition if you want to catch the eye of a scout. Even if you aren't the team “superstar,” you may still be eligible for a scholarship to a smaller university or college.

3. Applications and Essays

There are a wealth of college scholarships that are available to willing applicants who meet certain criteria. Some scholarships are based on ethnicity, such as scholarships for Native Americans. Other scholarships are offered to students who live out of state. Sometimes money is awarded to students who have volunteered in their schools and communities. There are even scholarships that are open to pretty much anyone, and all you have to do is write an essay to get it.

Speak with a guidance counselor or a college official to find out what scholarships are available. With so many out there, you’re bound to find something you can apply for. Even if you already have academic or athletic scholarships, extra money from other various scholarships can help with additional expenses like books.

If you can find scholarship money for even a portion of your college expenses, you may be saving yourself a massive amount of money in the long run. Paying back student loans can take years, and you'll pay more than the original amount of the loan due to interest. Look around at websites such as College Data's Scholarship Finder or Career One Stop's Scholarship Search Tool to get started.

If you put some effort into maintaining high grades, good work in clubs or athletics, and applying to any and all scholarships you are eligible for. Talk to admissions counselors at colleges and guidance counselors at high schools for extra assistance in the scholarship application process and save yourself thousands of dollars.