For most students, deciding whether to attend college and what schools to apply to is the easiest part of the process. Once a student is accepted into the college, the challenge of determining how to pay for college kicks in. Having a basic knowledge of the different options available to you can help you make informed financial decisions to help you attend the college of your choice without finding yourself in a financial mess.
In order to offer you financial aid, most colleges requires that you submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The deadline for when you are required to file the FAFSA varies by college and state, but most colleges and universities encourage you to fill out the form when you apply so that a financial aid package may be included with your acceptance. The FAFSA analyzes your family’s income and expenses to determine how much your parents are expected to contribute to your college education. Once you fill out the FAFSA, you learn whether you qualify for federal grants, special student loan programs, or work-study programs. Many need-based scholarships also use the information from the FAFSA to determine your eligibility.
Grants and Scholarships
Grants and scholarships provide funds that do not have to be repaid to help you attend college. Most grants are available to students based on financial need. If your family contribution is below a certain amount, you will automatically qualify for federal Pell Grants and other grant opportunities through your college.
Scholarships are often based on additional criteria and provided by organizations outside of the federal government, or from specific departments and donors within a college or university. Students who plan to attend college should apply for as many scholarships as possible. While some scholarships pay large amounts of tuition, even smaller scholarships that only provide $100 to $1,000 may add up quickly and relieve some of the financial burden of paying for college.
If you know someone who has student loans, you may have heard what a burden it can be to graduate from college with loans. Taking out student loans to attend college is not always a bad thing, but you must compare the amount of student loans you take out to the income you expect to earn after graduation. Government loan programs typically offer lower interest rates than private loan programs. Take on a part-time job or work-study position to reduce the amount of loans you have to take out in order to afford college. If the amount of student loans you must take out is more than your annual expected income upon graduation, it may be worth looking into a less expensive college, choosing a different career path, or putting college on hold to save up enough money to attend with fewer loans.