Paying for college, the question on every parents mind when their child is born. They immediately start funding a 529 Savings Plan to reap potential tax-deferred growth and tax-free withdrawals while later helping you search and apply for scholarships. Before you know it, you’re off to college with a solid plan laid out to tackle any college expense. Actually on second thought, maybe you’re like thousands of students out there and you’re realizing that tuition costs are increasing every year and you’ll need help paying for room, board, books, and school supplies. With that reality check in mind, let’s have a cafecito and talk about resources to help tackle this feat.
Your best friend – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA®. When it comes to filling this out, the sooner the better. No seriously, it’s been noted that grants are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Make sure to consult your high school college center with help filling it out and take note of school and state deadlines for submittal. Your school’s college center may also offer college The Office of the U.S. Department of Education has additional resources for understanding federal student aid.
General Timeline to Keep in Mind
- After Oct. 1st, complete and submit FAFSA
- Review the Student Aid Report (SAR) for aid eligibility information
- Apply to college
- Complete any last scholarship applications
- Compare financial aid packages from your accepted schools
- Contact those schools financial aid office with any questions on your award letter
Don’t be shy or worried about calling the universities you’ve been accepted to for additional clarification on your award letter. Take this as a great opportunity to meet your potential advisors and ask about work study opportunities or work on campus that you can apply for. Opportunities like working at the school library are in demand and being an early applicant is always a plus.
Understanding your Award Letter:
- Grants—financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid (unless, for example, you withdraw from school and owe a refund)
- Can be need-based (awarded based on your family’s economic situation) or merit-based (students who demonstrate high levels of academic achievement, a commitment to community service, or excellent leadership skills).
- Work-study—a work program through which you earn money to help you pay for school
- Loans—borrowed money for college or career school; you must repay your loans, with interest
- Federal Student Loans
- Direct Subsidized Loans
- Direct Unsubsidized Loans
- Direct PLUS Loans
- Private Student Loans
- Offered by a lender such as a bank, credit union, state agency, or a school
I get it, this all sounds like a lot of information to absorb. Thankfully you’re not the first or the only one going through this. Asking your classmates for their experience can offer encouragement and may teach you a new strategy or resource. Sharing your concerns with your teachers will offer new insight into the college life and choosing your academic pursuits because guess what, they’ve been there, done that. Asking for help or insight early in your academic career will prove to be an asset down the line because everyone needs a strong support system. Be confident that you can tackle any obstacle and turn it into a learning experience.
Tips for saving on costs at school:
- Make friends with the financial aid team and don’t be shy about sharing your struggles financially and asking for more scholarship money or to explore alternatives to the loans in your financial aid package. If you’re persistent, they may find a way to source more scholarship funds.
- Ask your school librarian if there is a network from which you can borrow books. The books on your class reading list may have been checked out at your school, but you may be able to borrow the book from a library in the network and have it delivered to your local library. Save the trouble of purchasing a book on the syllabus and reselling it for less down the line.
- Ask your professor if they have an extra copy of the book you may borrow and return at the end of the class. They are often given extras and may be able to spare one for the term.
- Work a couple of hours in the school cafeteria. You’ll get dibs on yummy snacks and your school may reimburse a percentage of your meal expenses back to your balance as a perk of the job.
- Sign up to receive emails for events on campus that will be giving out free food or school supplies. You’ll usually get to eat a catered meal while learning about something you probably didn’t even know existed.
Remember that paying for college is not impossible and that resources are out there to help you succeed. Good luck on this epic adventure; sign up for classes you wouldn’t ordinarily take, make use of tutoring services and professor office hours, join a club, and study abroad. You’ve got this!
Useful Links (courtesy of the office of California’s 40th Congressional District)
- Paying for College: Student Resource Guide, 2019-2020 Edition
- The Federal Student Aid Application
- State of California Financial Aid
- Useful scholarship-related web sites
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has information on student loan options, financial aid, and student debt repayment
*Links provided in this article accessed on 12/18/2019. Information such as deadlines and dates may change each year. Consult the original sources for most up to date information.