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High Schoolers Compete for Scholarship Dollars as College Costs Rise

As high school students narrow in on their college decisions this month, the scholarships they can amass will likely play a part in their choice. Students are eagerly looking for ways to offset the rising cost of college with grants and scholarships.

When college freshmen were asked last fall about factors in their college choice, the cost of attending their current institution was a "very important" factor to nearly 46 percent, up from about 30 percent in 2004—the highest point in the 10 years that the question has been asked, according to the American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2013 study.  Nearly 49 percent of students said the financial-aid offer provided by their college was "very important" in their selection process, up from about 34 percent ten years ago, the annual survey by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA found.

Few families are able to finance college on their own anymore. The report notes more than half (50.8 percent) of students rely on loans to pay for college, and nearly three-quarters (72.9 percent) are funding their education through grants, scholarships, and other aid that does not need to be repaid.

An article in Wednesday's Washington Post estimates that there are nearly 1.5 million scholarships in the United States—some with specialized requirements; others more generic. The story, "Students Look for Scholarships in Some Unusual Places," looks at the quirky array of scholarships out there, including one from the makers of Duck Tape for the students who makes the most creative prom dress out of duct tape. Another from the Flag Manufacturers Association of America asks students to submit a video about what the flag means to you. 

As students review their financial situation for the fall, the newly developed Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is one tool to help. Financial-aid experts also encourage families to discuss and negotiate aid packages with college representatives, if they have questions. Despite efforts to streamline letter that students receive outlining their financial aid award, there often is still confusion among families about what is offered.  Recent research shows that wealthier families usually have an edge in the aid process, in part, because they have experience navigating the system.

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