Let’s face it. College is expensive.
Most students don’t have parents who can write a check or swipe a credit card to pay for college outright. But college is still a worthy investment, so below are some general tips to help you pay for it.
Apply for Admission and Institutional Scholarships
Admission drives everything. If you haven’t completed the admission process, the college doesn’t know you exist, much less that you might need financial aid, and the state and federal governments don’t know you are planning to go to college. Before you do anything else, apply for admission.
Most institutional aid is awarded through the admission process – there is not a separate application. Check with the college for specific information about available aid. Some colleges or universities do require a separate application for competitive scholarships. Be aware that such scholarship application deadlines usually come early!
Types of Institutional aid
- Academic – Academic scholarships are usually based on high school grades, test scores, or a combination of both. Students are generally required to maintain a certain GPA to keep academic scholarships.
- Athletic/Activity – Athletic/Activity scholarships are based on performance in sports or extracurricular activities (debate, etc.). These scholarships may be discontinued if the student stops playing the sport or participating in the activity.
- Foundation – Foundation scholarships are often based on criteria specified by the donor who established the scholarship. Such criteria may include gender, ethnicity/national origin, religion, anticipated major, county/town of residence, etc.
- Community College Tuition Guarantee Programs – Community College Tuition Guarantee Programs are typically sponsored by a city or county chamber of commerce or other community organization. The programs usually require students to apply for federal aid, state aid, and institutional aid first. The guarantee program then pays any remaining balance of tuition for students who qualify.
Apply for Federal Aid
Complete the FAFSA! – www.fafsa.ed.gov (opens in a new window)
The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is required for any type of federal aid, including Pell grants, student loans, and work-study. The FAFSA is also required for some state aid and some need-based institutional aid. You are encouraged to complete the FAFSA, even if you think you might not qualify!
When to Submit the FAFSA
The FAFSA opens each year on October 1 and should be completed each and every year that a student seeks financial aid. High school seniors should complete the FAFSA as soon after October 1 as possible, because some institutional aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. The FAFSA-filing deadline for the Mississippi HELP Grant is April 30.
FAFSA Completion Assistance is Available
Get2College offers free, confidential advice to help students plan, prepare, and pay for college. Visit www.get2college.org (opens in a new window) or call 601.321.5533 to make an appointment with a counselor.
Apply for State Aid
Each year, the State Legislature sets aside more than $40 million that Mississippi students can use to go to college.
Apply for Other/Private Scholarships
There are billions (that’s right, with a “B”) of dollars in scholarships, other financial aid and internships available through countless private foundations, businesses, organizations, clubs, religious groups, and individuals. The best way to find private or foundation scholarships is to search early and often through the Internet.
Get2College (opens in a new window) also maintains a list of private scholarships and links to the best, most trustworthy scholarship search sites.
Determine Your Bottom Line
You may know the cost of tuition, but what is college really going to cost you? Here are some tools to help you determine your bottom line.
Understanding the Cost of Attendance
Your financial aid package, outlined in your award letter, will be based on the college’s Cost of Attendance (COA) and your personal Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC is determined by the FAFSA. The COA is the total estimated amount it will cost a student to go to school and includes the following:
- tuition and fees
- on-campus room and board (or a housing and food allowance for off-campus students)
- allowances for books, supplies, transportation, loan fees, and, if applicable, dependent care
- costs related to a disability
- miscellaneous expenses, including an allowance for the rental or purchase of a personal computer.
Remember that the COA is an estimated cost. Some elements of the COA may not be as high for all students. You can lower your actual cost of attendance by saving on travel expenses, textbooks, and other miscellaneous costs.
Tips for Saving on Textbooks
- When possible, buy books through online discount sites. There are lots of them. Some work as auction sites (like eBay). Others do direct sales. Others are trade sites. You can get books for half the cost at times, but buyer beware!
- Take advantage of e-books if you can. Sometimes professors only require you to read one or two chapters of a book. If the book is available as an e-book, you may be able to purchase only the chapter you need for much less than the entire book.
- Take care of your books and sell them back to the bookstore. You won’t recoup all your costs, but you’ll make back a little.
- Take advantage of textbook exchanges through the college.
Compare Financial Aid Award Letters
Once you’ve been admitted to college and you’ve applied for financial aid, you will receive an Award Letter from the college. The Award Letter will explain how much and what types of aid you’ve qualified for. It will list the following:
- Gift aid (money that you don’t have to repay, such as grants and scholarships)
- Loans (money that must be repaid)
- Work-study positions you may qualify for
Look for Gift Aid
In general, the more gift aid a package has, the better the package. Be sure to look at percentages, not whole numbers. What percentage of the total aid package comes from scholarships and grants that do NOT have to be repaid? What percentage comes from loans that DO have to be repaid?
What about Loans?
Despite what you may have heard, student loans are not all bad. After all, you are investing in your own future! But some loans are better than others.
As a general rule, you should look for loans with low-interest rates and favorable deferment and repayment terms. Federal loans tend to be more student-centered than private loans, but that isn’t always the case.
Get2College(opens in a new window) can help you compare financial aid letters and find the college that offers the best fit for you (and your wallet).
Accept Your Financial Aid Award Package
Once you choose the college and financial aid package that works for you and your family, you will need to accept the aid package by signing some paperwork. The college’s financial aid office will guide you through this.
If your financial aid package includes a student loan (and most do!), you will have to sign a promissory note (or contract) that obligates you to repay the loan at some point in the future. Many promissory notes are available online for electronic signature.