How are you going to pay for college?
As winter approaches high school seniors are thinking about college. Should I take a SAT prep course, and re-take the SAT to get a higher score? Is this essay good enough? When should I do an on campus interview? Can I get accepted into that college? When I get accepted, can I even afford to go to school X?
Today, we’ll address this last concern; paying for college is no small feat. With tuition, room, and board running anywhere from $10,000 per year to $50,000+, money is not merely an academic discussion when it comes to college. Every student needs to have a realistic idea of how they’ll pay for college and how they’ll eventually pay back the loans they’ll probably have to take out.
The Federal Government:
The biggest source of funding for school is the federal government. They have a standardized process for reviewing a candidate’s financial needs, and making available loans and grants for college. The standard form is the Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA). This application needs to be filled out by at least the end of June, but you’ll want to fill it out MUCH earlier. Check with the financial aid department at your school of choice to learn about their timeline for student aid applications. Usually you’ll submit your FAFSA before or around the same time you submit your applications to schools.
To be eligible you must:
- Be a US Citizen
- Have a valid social security card
- Maintain a satisfactory GPA
- Show you’re qualified to attend college (i.e. Have a GED, or High School Diploma)
- Men between the age of 18 and 25 must be registered with the Selective Service
There are several different types of money available to you from the federal government:
- Grants—student aid funds that do not have to be repaid.
- Work-Study—a part-time work program to earn money while you are in school.
- Federal Loans—student aid funds that you must repay with interest.
There are also different types of federal student loans:
Does all of this sound complicated?… well… it is. The good news is that the professionals in the financial aid department of your schools of choice will be happy to talk you through it, and are a great resource that you SHOULD take advantage of. You’ll also find your high school counselor can make a wealth of resources available to you. They know of many local private and public scholarships that you may be eligible for. They are also very familiar with the financial aid process.
To start out, you can fill our your FAFSA online. Here’s a list of all the documents you’ll potentially need, alas, it’s not a short list. We’d advise talking to your guidance counselor, and a school or two before undertaking the effort to fill out the FAFSA. You want to be sure to get it right, and get it in on time. You can also get free help from the U.S. Department of Education at www.fafsa.gov (online chat is also available), or call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).
Other sources of FREE information on the federal aid process include your state higher education agency and the reference section of the local library. Entire books have been written on this process.
Private Student Loans:
Once you’ve filed for federal funds, we need to talk about private loans. Many students will also need to take out a normal student loan with a bank. Be careful in this process, and again be ready to talk it over with the college of your choice before committing to anything. We do NOT recommend using a fee based private loan service, as there are plenty of free resources out there to help you find private loans.
In the case of loans, keep in mind that the whatever amount you borrow you must be pay back with interest. While loans can be a good investment in your future, taking out a federal or private student loan is a serious obligation.
OK, you filled out your FAFSA, and you know how much you could get in loans. But, you would certainly rather avoid incurring more debt than is necessary to go to college. This is where scholarships come in. Scholarships are private grants that you can earn depending on a number of factors. There are scholarships out there for every ethnicity, for every age range, and for any line of work (or parents line of work) you can imagine. Your high school counselor is again a great resource to help you find some appropriate scholarships. Once you’ve talked to your counselor, we’d advise going to www.fastweb.com. It is a great online resource to help find some of those more obscure scholarships out there (i.e did you know there was a scholarship out there for second generation Serbian cabinet makers?). We do NOT recommend using any private fee-based scholarship finding services, there are just too many good free resources out there.
Here are just a few of the free resources:
- Your high school guidance counselor
- The local library reference section
- FREE online scholarship searches (www.fastweb.com)
- Foundations, and religious or community organizations
- Ethnicity-based organizations
- Your employer, or your parents’ employer
Finding the right school and funding a degree program can be a challenging process. Once they’ve got the complete picture though, any high school senior and their family can make an appropriate decision about where they can attend versus where they want to attend. It’s a lot of work and a tough choice, but with so many great sources of funding available, most qualified students can find the financing to attend college.