As you begin to move forward in your college exploration process, and even begin sorting through acceptance letters, paying for college is a critical detail that requires a great deal of attention. Fundamentally, you would like to begin your journey by understanding and calculating the net cost for the institutions you have in mind. Make sure to consider costs beyond tuition and/or room and board. Mull over the various expenses associated with college life that may often be overlooked such as transportation costs (if you reside off-campus or plane tickets if the institution is located out of state), personal expenses (laundry, medicine, toiletries), books and school supplies1, etc. It is also important to note, students that attend colleges/universities that are not located within their home states are often subjected to various out-of-state fees which typically translates into higher tuition costs. After factoring all expense approximations, assess the institutions respectively.
Once your cost of attendance is estimated accurately, you are then able to begin formulating a plan and making the necessary steps towards reaching that financial requirement. Your first step towards funding for college education should be applying for financial aid. It is essential to first determine how much aid you are eligible for in order to make out the remaining costs you will need to supplement. To apply for financial aid, most schools require you to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) which will establish your grant, work-study, and loan eligibility2. It also considers your family’s financial situation and calculates your expected family contribution (an estimation of costs your family should be able to cover). Most private institutions also require you to complete the CSS (College Scholarship Service) profile in addition to the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for grants and scholarships from sources outside of the government. Moreover, the CSS generally asks for more financial information than the FAFSA and also requires a $25 fee. Be sure to inquire with your intuition’s financial aid department if you are indeed required to complete the CSS profile.
Critically, you should understand and become familiar with the different forms of financing your college education. Completing the FAFSA is significant because it determines the amount of grant aid you qualify for. Grants are extremely helpful because they can be considered as “free money” given by the government, the school, or other private sources that you are not required to repay.
Scholarships are also a crucial approach to meeting your financial need because like grants, scholarships do not require repayment but serve as a great supplement to state and federal support to cover additional costs. Scholarships are excellent forms of aid because of their diversity. Typically, you can earn scholarships that are need-based (meaning you have met a certain criteria of demonstrated financial need) or merit-based (for your academic, leadership, and/or extra-curricular achievements). Scholarships can vary in amount from $10,000 to $500 and can be sent directly to your institution or go straight into your pocket–either way, these are funds awarded to you to support your journey to higher education. Whether you are an athlete, placed within the top percent of your class, or simply left-handed, there are many scholarships available for you.
A few well-known scholarships specifically for accomplished students of color or from low-income communities include (but are not limited to) Questbridge and Gates Millennium, however, you are advised to actively search for scholarships that you are the most suited for. The important part is effectively searching for the ones you qualify for and completing the applications to the best of your ability. For the scholarships that require essay questions, it is essential that you produce answers that effectively communicate your story, highlight your accomplishments, and set you apart from the other candidates. Be sure to take your time to ensure your application is ultimately well put together and sent before the deadline. You are encouraged to visit your college counselor to find out more information about where to search or how to competitively apply for scholarships in addition to perusing through the following prominent sites for:
Furthermore, it is also suggested to pursue federal work-study as another form of financial support. As a part of your financial aid plan, many schools offer federally-funded jobs that allow students to work part-time while attending school.
After exhausting all other opportunities and there are still costs that need to be met towards your college education, you have the option of applying for loans. Although a “loan” is a scary term to some, it can definitely be a helpful solution. However, it is crucial that you are completely informed and accept the repayment terms that you are applying for. Research. Pay attention to interest rates. Essentially, you should know that your loan accumulates interest from the moment it has been disbursed. The government pays the interest on your loan while you are in school if your loan is subsidized, however, and thus, are generally more appealing than unsubsidized. Although, private bank loans are also available if need be, government loans (if that) are more ideal because government loans often feature lower interest rates and are generally more strict with repayment.
1National College Finance Center, Understanding College Costs, http://www.collegefinancecenter.org/understanding-college-costs.html.
2 Scholarship America, U.S. News, 12 Financial Aid Terms Defined, http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/the-scholarship-coach/2012/07/19/1… (July 19, 2012).