What if you could transform the lazy, hazy days of summer into an opportunity to attend your dream college practically for free?

Ben Kaplan did just that: Winning more than two dozen scholarships worth $90,000 —enough to cover virtually the entire cost of his Harvard degree.

Here's how:

1. Research Scholarships Online
(Projected savings: $10,000 - $15,000)

— $6 to $8 billion in scholarships available from private corporations, foundations, associations
— Use 12-14 free Internet scholarship databases (Fastweb, ScholarshipExperts, CollegeAnswer, etc.)
CityofCollegeDreams.org has a helpful scholarship tool for better using all of these databases
— Don't neglect small, local scholarships (few apply, there's a snowball effect, and they really add up)
— Recycle old applications — once you've applied for two, you've done most of the work to apply for 10

2. "Supersize" Financial Aid
(Projected savings: $10,000 - $20,000)

— Getting a "preferential package" means more grants and less loans
— Majority of colleges give preferential packages to those students they really want to attract
— Position yourself as a "special" student through your application, in-person visits, and campus contacts
— Better chance to appeal your award (and access "adverse circumstances" funds) if you apply early
— "Professional judgment" appeals for your unusual circumstances can result in thousands more in aid

3. Claim New Tax Benefits
(Projected savings: $5,000)

— Recent stimulus bill contained little-known American Opportunity Tax Credit
— If you spend $4,000 on college this year, you can get $2,500 back as a tax credit
— $1,000 is refundable (meaning you can still get it even if you don't pay taxes)
— Over the next two years, it's an easy way to save $5,000
— Estimated that more than 25 percent of those who could qualify don't claim these types of tax benefits
— High income limits: Can make $80,000 (single filers) or $160,000 (joint filers) and still claim the full credit

4. Get Free Tuition Credits
(Projected savings: $10,000 - $15,000)
— Earning college credit from AP, CLEP, IB, and other tests is the most underutilized way to save
— Each credit you earn now is one less you have to pay for later
— A single test can now save you $8,000 - $10,000 at many private colleges and universities
— You can reduce costs by 25 percent at most colleges if you have enough credit
— Research the policies of potential colleges and choose classes and exams that maximize savings
— I personally saved $30,000 at Harvard by entering with the credits of a sophomore.

5. Climb the Student Loan Ladder
(Projected savings: $10,000 - $15,000)

— Loan types are confusing and it's critical to make sure you have the least-expensive loan type
— Choose government-backed loans (Stafford, PLUS, Perkins) before private alternative loans
— Shop around for the best deal and look for "front end" benefits (waive origination fees, etc.)
— Opting for a longer repayment plan (many do this) can double the cost of your loan
— By maximizing scholarships and financial aid, you not only borrow less but save compound interest, too

Total Savings: $45,000 - $70,000

For more information, visit: www.cityofcollegedreams.org