Investing in Education: Different Ways to pay for College

Investing in Education: Different Ways to pay for College

It is not a secret that college is expensive. Going to college with the rising cost of living may feel impossible. Luckily, there are a lot of different options that can help to pay for college. The great news is that you can tailor a financial plan to your exact needs and costs. 

Financial aid and scholarships often require applications to be submitted well before a student arrives on campus. Prior planning will allow you to give your full attention to classes and homework. A great thing to do is to prepare a list of the expenses you might incur for the whole semester. The office of financial aid may have guidance on this as costs are often determined by the location of the school itself. This will give students and families a general idea of what it will cost  to attend that college. 

You may find that college isn’t as expensive as you thought it would be. A scholarship or some funding could cover a majority of the tuition costs. You do not have to have the highest GPA in your class to get financial help. Good grades and test scores can help but there are other ways of getting a higher education funded.

Understanding the Landscape of College Costs

On a university’s website, students can usually see what each semester will cost. This may just show the cost of tuition, it could also include books, room, food, or any other lab or professor fees. Some students  will also have to figure out transportation and how to get around campus as well as the city.

Choosing which college to attend is going to impact the financial costs as well. Not all universities cost the same so find one that is going to be a good fit for your financial situation. If a college offers a scholarship or other financial funding, that college could be a great option for you.

Student loans may be options but keep in mind that they will have to be paid back. Scholarships and grants can be a great way to reduce or eliminate student loan debt. The less debt you have after college allows you to start building the life you want instead of paying off loans.

Financial Aid Options

The United States has designed several different options for students to afford a higher education. Completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid),will help determine eligibility for Pell Grants, Loans, Work-Study, and other grants. These are all government-assisted options that are considered need-based aid, and may not include state-assisted options or private scholarship options. It is important to note that many grants and scholarships will require information from the FAFSA in their application or awarding process.

State-assisted options include specialized programs that are often degree specific, Community College Programs, State Grants, Merit-Based Scholarships, and Residency-Based Programs. Typically if you are a resident of the state in which you are attending school, your tuition or costs will be cheaper than someone from out-of-state. To qualify for state programs, students will often need to fill out a FAFSA form. There may be other documents and forms they need to fill out for state programs.

Most universities and colleges will provide information about your financial aid package. These are known as Institutional Financial Aid Packages. Universities and other colleges will have scholarships, grants, and aid for some of their students meeting certain criteria. Keep in mind that financial aid options have deadlines that need to be met to be eligible for consideration.

Scholarships and Grants

There are several different kinds of scholarships. The main ones that colleges offer are merit-based and need-based scholarships. Merit-based scholarships are given to those who have outstanding grades, high test scores, and other extracurricular involvement, and may not require financial disclosures. Need-based scholarships are intended for those who have completed a FAFSA and demonstrate  challenging financial situations and are considered moderate to lower income.

How do you find out about scholarships? Talk to an advisor or counselor at your high school or college. You can also do  research with the help of the internet. Search engines are a great way to get results for different scholarships for which you may be eligible . Keep in mind that you will not receive every scholarship, so keep applying to different opportunities. If you are a member of an American Indian tribe, you may also want to contact the tribal higher education or scholarship department to determine eligibility. Of course, most U.S. tribal members can always visit,,, or to determine if those scholarships apply to their situation. 

Grants are another good way to get financial aid for college expenses. Typical grants include the Pell Grant, state grants, school grants, and emergency aid grants. They do not need to be repaid and are sometimes based on financial need.

Work-Study Programs

This form of financial aid allows students to work while going to school. Typically these jobs are available through the office of financial aid and can apply to your field of study. This can help build your resume while also allowing you to pay for the costs of college. Eligibility for Work-Study is often determined through submission of the FAFSA.

These jobs are part-time which allows you to focus on your studies. They are also flexible with student schedules. This allows students to choose classes needed to graduate. Hours can often be adjusted to help you succeed during your academic semester.

Most work-study programs are given to those who are in financial need. If you are not in that position you may want to seek other financial opportunities or other part-time jobs. Some institutions will post part-time positions for any students on campus. These are often called institutional employment. Treat these application processes and programs professionally since they will act as future references and can prepare you for applying to positions in a future career.

College Savings Plans

529 College Saving Plans are what most people think of when it comes to saving for college. These are great options for some families because the earnings are typically tax-free. If this isn’t an option, consider taking AP classes or dual enrollment classes to get college credit for little to no cost. Oftentimes, fee waivers or testing discounts can be found through a high school counselor.

Employer Tuition Assistance

If you are working, some employers may help pay for education related costs. Not every employer offers these programs so it is best to check with the employer to determine eligibility and the process to apply.

Sometimes an employer will cover a percentage of your tuition cost. There are going to be forms that need to be completed but this is a small amount of effort to have the employer help to pay for schooling.

Keep in mind that going to school and working are both big commitments. You may need to cut back on hours or leave a job while going to school. You want to keep your health and well-being as the top priority so do not burn yourself out trying to do too much. This is where scholarships can be helpful.

Community College Funding and Transfer Options

Starting at a community college can save some students money. They typically cost less but allow students to get a degree or the general education requirements done. This can save  hundreds, if not thousands of dollars during your college experience.

Take a look at what options may be available at the local community college. Verify that the credits are transferable to a university or other 4-year degree program to which you may want to apply. It is always recommended to verify this with the university because they are the ones who will accept or deny the credits. Work with them and the community college to make sure there are no courses being taken that will not transfer.

Community colleges are great options because class sizes are usually smaller. This allows you to get the help they may need and find their footing in a classroom setting.

The government, state, and institution you are attending may have a variety of financial options  available to students. Private companies and groups also have scholarships and other options to help pay for college. You may have to do a combination of work, scholarships, and loans to help you get through college. But the more assistance one gets, the less student loans that are needed and that’s the ultimate goal.

When students  know what school is going to cost, the time spent searching for scholarships and other financial aid can alleviate some of the stress during the academic year. This may also allow students to plan for the semester and save for other unexpected costs. Some students may have to save and cut back on spending, but it is an investment that will be worth it.

Most  high school students should have a counselor who will help to plan and apply for different financial aid options. Some schools offer financial aid events for families. Individuals no longer in high school can look at the college to which they are applying. A lot of the time colleges and universities will have advisors to help identify scholarships and other financial opportunities.

Student Loans

Always consult the Federal Student Aid Program before, during, and after a student loan is provided. The two main loans that the United States offer are subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Subsidized loans allow students to borrow interest-free while they are in school. They also offer a grace period after graduation from school. Unsubsidized loans are available to everyone. They do gather interest while in school and until it is paid off in full.

Typically most people will start paying off their loans as soon as they get a job after college. Some jobs participate in student loan forgiveness programs for individuals who work for a certain number of years.

You must understand the terms and conditions of the loans that you are considering. There can be serious consequences to not paying back loans that can impact your financial future. Know when you need to start paying and how much you are required to pay each month.

In conclusion, it is always advisable to talk directly to the office of financial aid, a scholarship officer, a scholarship program or tribal scholarship officer to get a good sense of what a college will cost. They may have information needed to make a final decision about attending one college over another. And please, feel free to always reach out to us at with your questions about college affordability.