The Simplest Guide to Paying for College

paying for college

College tuition costs are the number one reason why people say they can’t attend school. For many, they don’t know about all of the options. Here, we give you some simple steps to help you get closer to your dream, all without breaking the bank.

Fill out the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an application from the federal government to determine who will qualify for aid. You will need to fill this out whether you want to take out loans or not – grant money, work-study opportunities and some state aid are all based on the findings from the FAFSA. If you are a dependent, meaning – your parents claim you as a dependent on their taxes, you will need them to input their tax information and sign. If you are an older student or you don’t have anyone claiming you as a dependent on their taxes, then you will need your own taxes.

If you are male, you will have to register for the Selective Service (the draft) in order to apply for federal aid. You’ll also need a high school diploma or GED by the time the aid is dispersed.

From the FAFSA, you will get an award letter which will tell you what you qualify for. The financial aid department at your school deals directly with your loans and grants, and then you will pay any difference out of pocket.

Apply for Scholarships

Don’t underestimate the ability of scholarships to help fund your education. There are literally thousands of scholarships for all sorts of things like specific majors or even for things that are outside the box, like making a prom dress out of duct tape. While some scholarships are for thousands of dollars, there are tons of smaller scholarships that can earn you a few hundred dollars here or there. And don’t scoff – that can take care of a semester of books, or a meal card at the cafeteria.

There are some great scholarship websites that help you search for the best fit but go to the college and university sites as well to help you learn about more obscure options that won’t have as many applicants.

Get a job that has tuition reimbursement

A lot of companies have tuition reimbursement, or even just give funds every year for student workers. This is money you don’t have to pay back, so take advantage. If you are an older student who is already working, find out if your HR department will consider tuition reimbursement for all or part of your education. The tuition benefit is a tax break for them, and if it helps you advance your skills on-the-job, it’s a win-win for everyone.

For younger students, some top companies offer great tuition programs. Some notable examples are: Starbucks, Target, Amazon, Lowes, Chick-Fil-A and many more. If you have to work in college anyway, you may as well get the added benefit of a degree that is covered by the company.

Ask family

One tried-and true method for getting school funding is to take it to the family. While not everyone’s parents have extra money to help them with college, you may have a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle, or even a close family friend who is willing and able to help. While it can be hard to ask for help, many people will appreciate that you thought of them, and that you are making your education a priority.

It may be helpful in these situations to present your case in a cohesive manner. For example, show your family member what you plan to do after college, how much money those jobs make, and what your plan is to earn good grades during school and contribute to society.

If they do agree, you can work out a loan program at a lower interest rate than other loans, if your agreement is to pay them back. Or, they may just want you to pay it forward, and have you commit to helping others down the line.

Take out private student loans

If you have exhausted all of your other options and you are still short, then consider private student loans. These are a riskier and more expensive option, but if you are confident in your ability to get a good job and repay the loans once you finish, then these can be a solid option. You can find private loans through your own bank, other banks in your area, or through online lenders – just be wary of repayment terms and interest rates. Only you can decide if the benefits outweigh the risks of these loans.

For these types of loans, you must have a good credit score, and you will usually have to show your tax returns, bank statements and other financial information to show you have the ability to pay the loans back.

Whatever you do, don’t let finances be the thing that holds you back from getting a college degree. There are so many options today, and you can leverage all of them to help you earn your degree.