Several American universities are dealing with the fallout from allegations rich and powerful families paid bribes to get their kids into elite schools. But there is free and legal money out there in the form of scholarships that students can apply for to help cover costs.

How likely is it that you’ll win scholarship cash?

Statistics show there’s a fairly decent chance. Almost half of families use scholarships for post-secondary school, with scholarships and grants covering up to 35 per cent of costs.

Although less than one per cent of students get scholarships that cover the entire cost of tuition and room and board, every penny counts.

Consumer Reports says you should use some smart strategies to maximize your chances of getting scholarship money.

First, look to your future school. Post-secondary institutions 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 per cent 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 Scholarships Canada and have tips and links to websites of scholarship databases.

Go big and small. Apply to both national and local scholarships.

“National scholarships offer more money, but you might be off focusing on a local scholarship. It'll be easier to snag one of those because you'll have less competition,” explained Rosato.

Of course, it pays to start early.

And keep a list of each scholarship, its requirements and its due date because a missed deadline is definitely a missed opportunity.