You sent out your applications, waited anxiously for acceptance letters, and finally picked your dream school to attend. And while you’re psyched to go to college, you know it comes at a cost — which you’re a little unsure about how to pay.
As you move closer to graduating high school, you need an accurate picture of your and your family’s finances to see if you have enough saved to attend the college you’ve chosen, and if you’ll need other means to cover expenses like tuition or books.
You can think about how you pay for college in two categories:
- What you have
- What you need
What you have:
- An admission acceptance and a financial aid award letter
After you complete your FAFSA application, your potential colleges or universities will each send you an award letter, which details the amount and types of financial aid available to you. Your award letter is an important tool to identify what aid you don’t have to pay back — usually in the form of scholarships from the school itself, federal scholarships, and grants — and what kind of aid you will have to pay back, such as federal student loans.
- Any additional funds you may have
This category includes a few things: Scholarships that you’ve applied for and won, or personal savings from yourself or your family. You, and your family, will need to determine the amount you’re comfortable contributing toward your tuition each year.
If you have multiple award letters, use a financial aid comparison calculator to help you compare the award letter offers for two or three colleges and help determine which one is more affordable. One college may seem less expensive, but once you consider variable costs, like paying to live on or off campus or costs to travel home on breaks, you can tell what the true cost is of attending each school.
What you need:
Once you know how much school will cost, subtract the amount you have received in free aid — such as scholarships from the school itself, federal scholarships, and grants — as well as the amount you have saved to pay for college. Do you need additional money to pay for college? Here are some ideas to bridge the gap:
Scholarships are a great way to cover the difference of what you have and what you need with money you do not have to pay back not just your first year of college but every year. Search Tuition Funding Sources along with local businesses and organizations for available scholarships. While scholarship applications take time to fill out, it may be worth it — you could get the bulk of your college tuition and other expenses covered if you win enough. If you need inspiration or advice, check out this video of tips from real scholarship winners.
- Work study
Federal work study is a part-time employment program that helps qualifying students earn money in college. In other words, you qualify to work a specific job, earn money, and then you can use that money to pay for college costs including tuition. But, it’s important to make sure you qualify before counting on that money: check your award letters to make sure.
- Student loans
Student loans may also be available if you need extra money to cover your education costs, with both federal and private student loan options. Federal student loan terms will be detailed in your financial aid offer letters. Private student loans are ones you and your family have to apply for and select on your own. Ensure that you research all of your borrowing options carefully, so that you can compare all aspects, including interest rates, fees, and repayment options, to select what best works for you.