Many people tend to think that the only way to afford and pay for college is by taking out student loans, especially as tuition prices continue to increase. And while that is one option for paying for college, there are several routes you can take before going straight to borrowing.
Likely, you’ll end up consolidating funds from various sources, and there isn’t one clear path for everyone. Below are several options you should investigate as you prepare to pay for college.
Complete the FAFSA application.
Federal student aid is available for most U.S. citizens or eligible noncitizens to help cover the cost of college. The application is free to complete, and you should submit it even if you think you may not qualify. The primary eligibility criteria include:
- Demonstration of financial need (the difference between the cost of attendance and expected family contribution)
- You are a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen
- You have a valid social security number
- You’re enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree program
- You maintain satisfactory academic progress in college
There is no income cut-off to qualify for federal student aid. It is recommended to fill out the FAFSA as early as possible. Many of the federal grants, work-study opportunities, student loans, and state-based aid are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
Apply for scholarships.
The great thing about scholarships as opposed to student loans is that they do not have to be paid back. You can start your scholarship search even before you reach your senior year of high school. Some scholarships offer awards for certain activities or qualifications completed in years prior to college. There are thousands of scholarships available, and you may be able to secure more than one (dependent on scholarship criteria).
Look for school-based aid.
Not all universities and colleges are the same — some are more generous with aid than others. For this reason, even though one college may have a higher yearly tuition than another, the more expensive institution may be willing to grant you more significant aid than the other, which may equalize the price or even drop it lower than the “cheaper” college.
Take advantage of grants.
For simply filling out the FAFSA and renewing it every year you are a student, you could automatically receive federal Pell Grant funds based on your financial need. Grants are another source of funds that do not have to be paid back, and the federal government, state departments of education, and other state agencies offer numerous types of grants. This U.S. Department of Education map can show you the agencies that offer college grants by state.
Apply for the federal work-study program.
Applying for work-study is part of filling out the FAFSA form. If you’re financially eligible, the program funds a part-time job during your time on campus. This can be beneficial not only for the additional income it provides, but also for the experience and career networking opportunities. Keep in mind, you only receive the work-study funds you qualify for if you meet the hourly requirements.
Consider student loans.
After you’ve checked all the boxes above, if you still need help paying for college, you can apply for student loans. It is recommended to apply for federal loans before private loans, because they offer benefits such as income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs. If you opt to apply for private loans, be sure to heavily research your lender options and evaluate interest rates and repayment flexibility.
Going to college can be a hefty investment, but one that is worth it to many. Luckily, there are lots of options for paying for college and receiving assistance. If you’d like further guidance on the financial opportunities available to you, our expert team at Republic Bank can help advise you. Reach out to us at 800-526-9127.