KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If you're a parent of school age kids, you're probably already stressing about how to pay for college. The average student leaves college with nearly $40,000 in loan debt.
Joshua Burdette is the a college advisor at University Academy in Kansas City. He says the first big step every parent and student can take starting freshman year is to focus on keeping grades up.
"GPA, GPA, GPA! Schools like test scores but at the end of the day, they find GPA is a good indicator of college success," said Burdette.
As freshmen, students can also begin the second step, which is to start exploring free websites like raise.me. The site allows students to plug-in every class they take and see instantly how their grades affect scholarship offers.
"They see--okay I get an A in this class, this translates to real dollars. This happens. It's not something that I do at the end," Burdette said.
There are 265 colleges that offer scholarships on raise.me.
Jenique Graham, a senior at University Academy, has been using the site and says there's a lot more money to pay for college than she ever dreamed.
"Some of the deadlines and stuff are coming up really fast," she said.
She's gotten money for her grades, with bonuses for tougher and dual enrollment courses as well as scholarships for playing sports, having a job and doing volunteer work.
The third step is big. Last year alone students who failed to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) left on the table nearly two billion dollars in free money for college.
Advisors say it's also a big part of helping kids find what college is best for them.
"We want students to be at a school of best fit," said Burdette. "So that's academics, that's social, but then that's also financial fit."
There are several scholarship search engines that students can also use to help find cash for college.
Experts also suggest students check with financial aid offices of colleges that most interest the student. They likely have additional resources for scholarships and aid.
Many area high schools, community organizations, employers and houses of worship also offer scholarships or tuition assistance.
Another resource for cost comparisons is College Reality Check.