See all resources

Top 10 Steps for Paying for College

Whether you are a senior finalizing your college plans or a freshman who is just beginning the college search it's never to early to start planning on how to pay for college. Here's a list of 10 steps to consider financially as you plan for college.

1. It’s Never Too Early
It’s never too early to start inves­ti­gat­ing how you’ll pay for col­lege. There are many invest­ment accounts where you can save money tax-free, basi­cally start­ing from birth! Pre-paid tuition plans were cre­ated to be inflation-proof, so that’s another way you can start sav­ing early. Or, if you can’t afford to put aside any money, just study­ing for and doing well on your PSATs, SATs, and other stan­dard­ized tests can put you way ahead in the finan­cial aid game.

2. Apply for Aid Before Being Accepted
Inquire about the required finan­cial aid forms when request­ing admis­sions appli­ca­tions, and start the finan­cial aid process six to nine months before you plan to enter school. Cre­ate a check­list of when all appli­ca­tions and forms are due.

3. Com­plete the FAFSA
Pick up a copy of the Fed­eral Appli­ca­tion for Free Stu­dent Aid (FAFSA) form from your high school guid­ance office or any col­lege admis­sions office. Com­plete and sub­mit the FAFSA to the fed­eral proces­sor as soon as pos­si­ble after Jan­u­ary 1 of the year you will be attend­ing school. An online ver­sion of the FAFSA, called the FAFSA on the Web, is avail­able through the Depart­ment of Education.

4. Find Out If You Need the CSS PROFILE
If you are con­sid­er­ing apply­ing to a pri­vate col­lege or uni­ver­sity, find out if the school requires the PROFILE, a new cus­tomized appli­ca­tion for insti­tu­tional aid made avail­able by The Col­lege Schol­ar­ship Service.

5. Inves­ti­gate Schol­ar­ships and Grants
The best way to receive an out­side schol­ar­ship is to research your options. Spend a day at the library or on the Inter­net and inves­ti­gate free resources. But make sure to take a look at the site’s pri­vacy pol­icy, and be aware that you might encounter out­dated data.

If you are plan­ning to use a paid search ser­vice instead, inves­ti­gate it thor­oughly first to make sure it’s from a rep­utable com­pany. Develop a pow­er­ful resume that empha­sizes your strengths and abil­i­ties. Com­pile and sub­mit nec­es­sary appli­ca­tions as soon as possible.

6. Review Your Stu­dent Aid Report (SAR)
Approx­i­mately three to four weeks after sub­mit­ting the FAFSA, you will receive an acknowl­edg­ment let­ter from the fed­eral proces­sor called the Stu­dent Aid Report (SAR). Review the SAR to ensure all infor­ma­tion is accu­rate. If nec­es­sary, sub­mit corrections.

7. Deter­mine Your Expected Fam­ily Con­tri­bu­tion
The most impor­tant ele­ment of both the SAR and the CSS PROFILE acknowl­edg­ment let­ter will be the Expected Fam­ily Con­tri­bu­tion (EFC). The EFC is the out-of-pocket expense that you and/or your fam­ily are expected to con­tribute to your edu­ca­tion. Finan­cial aid offices use the EFC to deter­mine your finan­cial aid award.

8. Review Your Finan­cial Aid Award Let­ters
Begin­ning in April, you should receive an award let­ter from the finan­cial aid office of each col­lege to which you have been accepted. The award let­ter states the type and amount of finan­cial aid you will receive. Review your award let­ters to make sure they reflect accu­rate information.

9. Con­sider Nego­ti­at­ing for a Bet­ter Finan­cial Aid Award
Your finan­cial aid award will be a com­bi­na­tion of grants, schol­ar­ships, work-study pro­grams, state grants, and low-interest loans. If the pack­age from a par­tic­u­lar school is dis­ap­point­ing, it is pos­si­ble at this time to con­tact the finan­cial aid office and try to nego­ti­ate a bet­ter award, espe­cially if you receive a bet­ter pack­age from another school. Use this bet­ter finan­cial aid award as a bar­gain­ing tool.

10. Apply for Loans
You and your fam­ily may decide to seek addi­tional funds by apply­ing for a fed­eral Par­ent Loan for Under­grad­u­ate Stu­dents (PLUS), a Fed­eral Stafford Loan, or a pri­vately insured sup­ple­men­tal loan.

You might also like…

Madison clay aotw scholarship winner

Scholarship Winner: Madison Clay

We are pleased to announce our scholarship winner Madison Clay from Richmond, IN! Madison is a sophomore at Northeastern High School. In addition to being an all-star athlete, Madison is involved in the National Honor Society, is the...


5 Common Cliches That Will Help You Win a Scholarship

How many times have you heard somebody say this to you? “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Or, “When you fall off the horse, you have to get back up.” We’ve all had eye-roll inducing sayings thrown at us before, but...

Piggy bank blog

An Athlete's Guide To Lowering The Cost of College

You’ve got the perfect college picked out. You like the team and the coach, it has strong academics, and campus life is just what you were looking for. Best of all, you got in and there’s a roster spot waiting for you. Just one...