Beth Pinsker / Reuters 10:25 AM ET

Many rely on a combination of student loans, family savings and work study earnings.

Until last week, high school senior Alex Gomez was missing a key piece in his puzzle-like plan to pay college tuition next year to the University of Colorado.

The 18-year-old from Ruidoso, New Mexico had already lined up family savings, financial aid, work study and loans, and then won a $7,500 scholarship from student-loan lender Sallie Mae for making a video about how he was going to pay for college.

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