Everyone’s financial situation is different. Attending college is a big financial decision for you and your family. Being accepted into your school of choice is cause for celebration-so don’t let the price tag damper your excitement. When it’s time to start planning how to pay for college, there are many resources to help you find a financial plan that works for you and your family and help you pay for college.
Most students qualify for some form of financial aid. Whether you come from a military family, have stellar grades, or demonstrate financial need, there are loans, grants, and scholarships that are designed to help you achieve your goals.
The most important first step you should take when figuring out how to pay for college is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. This form will determine your eligibility for financial assistance like federal loans, grants, work-study benefits and even some merit aid. The form can be completed online and we’ve made a helpful guide to get you through the steps of applying for the FAFSA.
Once you’ve completed the FAFSA, you’ll get a better idea of your options, check out our list of six ways to pay for college:
Scholarships offer money for college that does not need to be paid back. They often cover a specific area of study, interest, qualification, or achievement, and are funded by many different providers. Some examples of scholarship categories include academic, athletic, for minority students, military families, writers, LGBTQ, and so many more. There are many scholarships out there, including our College Ave $1,000 monthly scholarship. “Free” money from scholarships is the best place to start when evaluating how to pay for college most efficiently.
Grants, like scholarships, do not need to be repaid. They may come in the form of private grants from your institution, state funds, or federal funds like the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant is the largest federal grant program for undergraduate students. It’s awarded to students who demonstrate financial need to help them pay for college. The amount varies depending on full- or part-time student status, the cost of your school, and the duration of your studies.
A work-study program provides part-time employment opportunities while you’re in school. Available to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, work-study helps those with financial need pay for tuition costs, fees, or other costs like room and board. The U.S. Department of Education reports that there are roughly 3,400 participating post-secondary institutions offering work-study on or off-campus. If you qualify, make sure you take advantage of it while you’re in school.
4. Your Own Income and Savings
After the above options have been exhausted, it’s time to start looking for other ways to pay for college. Paying for college is expensive but working and earning while in school and during the summer will help cover college living expenses and help pay for tuition. If overlooked, consider any college savings not yet tapped into. A 529 college savings account is a state sponsored and tax advantage way to save and pay for college that would be beneficial to use for college expenses.
5. Federal Student Loans
Borrowing money through federal student loans is also one of the most common methods of paying for college. Federal loans, which are issued by the government, are categorized into two types for undergraduate students: direct subsidized (based on financial need) and direct unsubsidized loans (not based on financial need). They offer a low fixed interest rate and flexible repayment options. Federal student loans do have annual and lifetime limits, putting a cap on how much you can borrow through federal loans alone.
6. Private Student Loans
Private student loans are provided by banks, credit unions, and other private lenders, and should be used to pay for college costs that aren’t covered by scholarships, grants, savings, or federal financial aid. With private student loans you can borrow up to 100% of your cost of attendance which can include tuition, fees, room & board, and other college costs. Private student loans offer variable or fixed interest rates, and you can pay them while you’re in school or when you graduate. Each private loan has different terms, so if you’re approved, you and your potential cosigner should map out a repayment schedule to build and maintain good credit.
There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Approach on How to Pay for College
Figuring out how to pay for college will look different for every family. But all students should consider the big picture and have a realistic understanding of the costs and the return on investment.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all college student,” Says Jean Chatzky, CEO of Her Money and College Ave Blog contributor. “Today you need a strategy that starts with planning and filling out the FAFSA, but also involves looking at the value you’re getting from the school you choose.”
While the details of your professional life can be hard to forecast when entering school, anyone borrowing to pay for college should make sure their earning potential is sufficient to repay debt that is taken on.
We suggest consulting the experts: talk with a trusted family member, with your high school counselor, and the financial aid department at the schools you’re considering. They’ll be able to explain all your options and advise you on the best ways of how to pay for college.
You can also use online resources, including our student loan calculator. This handy tool helps you understand what your potential student loan monthly payments might look like, and how to make smart plans for the future. So, depending on your financial need, areas of interest, special qualifications, and school of choice, you have many opportunities to use financial aid to pay for your college education.