The Big Question: How to Fund College

Julia Wezio

This post is part of a series. We recommend reading The Big Deadlines: Applying to College (Part 3) prior to this post!

As I clicked the glowing “Submit” button on my final college application, the reality of knowing I was just that much closer to (hopefully) attending the school of my dreams was met with another reality: the price. 

Saying that college is expensive is almost as well known as saying that the sky is blue. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to fund college, just a few of which I’m going to share with you right now. Keep reading to see the strategies I found most helpful!

When I started looking at tuition, rent, textbooks, and all of the other expenses that went along with being a college student, I soon realized that it would take a lot of smart planning and awareness to get to where I wanted to be with my college education. I sat down with my dad, who was able to help explain how college savings worked and how I could plan for additional expenses that might come in the years ahead. It was a bit daunting to talk to my dad about money (nobody likes to ask their parents for extra cash), but I made a point to sit down and ask my parents these 10 questions:

  1. What are you willing to help me pay for?
  2. How much of my college funding will come from scholarships?
  3. Are there any additional expenses, such as parking or phone bills, that I will have to pay?
  4. How much of my college education will you be willing to pay for? Am I capped at 4 years, or will you help me pay for additional years if needed?
  5. Will I have spending money from home, or will I be working at school to fund my living expenses?
  6. What is my budget for housing?
  7. How often will I be able to travel home? (Ask this especially if you will need to fly or pay for a lengthy bus ride to and from school.)
  8. What kinds of loans/how much in loans are you willing to take out?
  9. What will I be financially responsible for once I graduate college?
  10. Can we write down a budget in case disagreements arise in the future?

Financial Aid

Before anything, you are going to want to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. This document is available to all U.S. students attending college, and with a little help from a parent or guardian, it can be done relatively easy. There is also a lesser-known yet similar type of financial aid that some schools require, which is called a CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile. When applying to colleges, I made sure to have a copy of both documents ready to be sent to whichever schools accepted me.

The deadline for the FAFSA tends to be at around the same time each year, so even if you’re a few years away from applying, keep an eye out for a deadline sometime in the middle of the summer. For 2020, the deadline is June 30, 2020!

Work-Study/Work

While not an option for all students, you should at least try to obtain work-study if you think you might be interested. Because work-study is a federally funded form of employment, you will need to have completed your FAFSA to find out whether you qualify. I applied for a Teaching Assistant role and was also able to get a job working with incoming freshman students to help them with their college transition in the business school. Even if you don’t qualify for work-study, you can look for other part-time job opportunities in the area.

Scholarships/Grants

Scholarships and grants are where a majority of my college funding came from, believe it or not. It takes a lot of research to scrounge around for different scholarships, but it is well worth it. Wondering where to start? Colleges of Distinction creates mega-lists of scholarships that you can apply for to help fund your college journey! 

Here are some types of grants offered federally each year:

       1. Federal Pell Grants

This is money that many students receive if they need to pay for college. Since it is a grant, it does not have to be repaid. While the amount varies, every eligible student will receive some funding. If you have not received your first bachelor’s degree, you can apply to receive a Pell Grant.

       2. FSEOG Program Grants (Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant)

Like a Pell Grant, FSEOG Grants do not need to be repaid. They are for any level of undergraduate student and can be applied to things like tuition, campus housing, and more. This grant is more oriented toward students with low-income backgrounds.

       3. TEACH Grant

This grant is specifically for students that are interested in becoming teachers after completing their education. While more oriented toward low-income students, this grant is completed after a certain amount of years working in the education field after graduating.

       4. Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant

Students whose parent or guardian died in military service during their time in Iraq or Afghanistan are eligible for this grant. While the student attending must be under 24 years of age, this grant is a bit more flexible in terms of how it can be used toward their education.

If you do not see any funding for which you qualify here, don’t lose hope! There are resources like Candid that can link you up with resources more adequately suited to what you’re looking for.

Outside Loans

Unlike grants and scholarships, loans will need to be repaid. You can apply for loans through the government, or you can get them from private companies.

  1. Federal Loans, like the Stafford Loan and Federal Perkins Loan, are the most common among students. Repayment options are consistent for all who use them.
  2. Private Loans are relatively common, though repayment options, interest rates, and more vary by location and private lender.

There are lots of private loan options available if you are a student in the U.S. (or planning to be). While I did not personally choose this route, I did a decent amount of research about what taking out loans might be like. Before choosing a private loan, it is important to find the best deal by reading about where the money is sourced from and how much you will be held accountable to once you graduate. Edmit is one of the best resources for students who need help making smarter financial decisions about college. From finding savings to helping apply for loans, this is a life-saver for any incoming student who feels lost.

After evaluating my payment options for college, it was time to do the most fun part of the entire college process: visiting them! Since I was applying to nearly 20 schools, I realized that it would be nearly impossible to visit every single campus. However, there were a few that I was interested in that were not too far out of reach for me and my parents. It’s important to take the time to visit the colleges that you are most interested in and/or have the highest odds of being accepted to.

Now, there were a few schools that were not just far out of my league, but actually far away from home! I could not afford countless plane tickets to major cities near the other schools that I was interested in, but I was still able to find other ways to learn about their culture. One of the colleges that I applied to had a student live-streaming network where I could sign up to meet with a current student and ask them questions. This might not be a commonly offered program, but there are other ways to learn.

A simple YouTube search can be very helpful. Watching videos from students at a school can give you an idea of what campus life is like and let you see things firsthand (not just the way that the university might want you to them). Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages can all give you insight into campus culture, and a glance at their “tagged” pictures can link you with students who are eager to share their stories. Even if your budget can’t get you to every single school you’re interested in, there are always ways to learn more.

Needless to say, there are countless ways to fund college. If money is the only thing holding you back from your goals and dreams, a simple conversation with someone from the financial aid office of your target school can make a world of difference. Colleges want incredible talent as much as you want an incredible college experience, so be confident and aware of your goals. And when you’re ready, I’ll tell you the story of how I felt when I opened my first college acceptance letter.

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