Use the 1-2-3 approach to help your student pay for college whether they’re studying on campus or online.
When you’re planning for college, the first question is often which school to choose. But equally as important is the question of how you’ll pay for it. These three steps can help you make more informed, responsible financial decisions for a big investment in your future.
1. Start with money you won’t have to pay back. Supplement your college savings and income by maximizing scholarships, grants, and work study.
Begin with any college savings that have been put aside in a dedicated college savings account and include current income that you’re earmarking for college. Maximize “free” money you will not have to pay back, including scholarships and grants. Then consider work study.
Scholarships are offered by colleges and universities, federal and state governments, religious groups, professional associations, employers, and other companies. You might think they’re only for academic or athletic accomplishments, but they can be awarded for a number of criteria:
- Organization memberships
- Community leadership
- Financial need
- Ethnic, religious, or national background
Apply for scholarships—the earlier, the better, since many have deadlines.
Grants and work-study
Grants and work-study are generally federally funded, so be sure to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for them. The FAFSA is also used to apply for most state loan, grant, and scholarship programs.
- Pell Grants, the largest federal grant program, are based on financial need; unlike a loan, a Pell Grant doesn’t need to be paid back
- Work-study programs are offered by federal and state governments, as well as schools. They offer part time jobs that let students earn money to help pay education expenses
2. Explore federal student loans. Apply by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
After you’ve maximized your free money, consider federal student loans, which are provided by the government. Direct Subsidized Loans are for students with demonstrated need and Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available regardless of family income.
- You can apply for both by filling out and submitting the FAFSA
- They’re issued in the student’s name and the student is responsible for paying them back
- They’re eligible for income driven repayment plans that link monthly payments to income
- Federal loans may be eligible for loan forgiveness programs, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program for borrowers who are employed by a qualifying public service organization
3. Consider a responsible private student loan. Fill the gap between your available resources and the cost of college.
If you still need additional funds after following steps 1 and 2, consider a private student loan. Private loans differ from federal student loans in several ways:
- They’re originated by banks and credit unions
- They’re credit based: the lender reviews your credit score and history to determine if you qualify. A cosigner—parent, guardian, or other adult—may improve the chances of approval. Some lenders offer a cosigner release option
- Your interest rate is based on several factors, including your creditworthiness
- Private student loans may offer different features, terms and options, and benefits that can help reduce your interest rate and/or total loan cost
Senior year calendar
Use this checklist to help keep track of deadlines. Note: Timing for acceptance and school specific financial aid information can vary by school.
To access additional financial education resources for students, please visit our Financial Education Center.