If you are a high school junior or senior, the most important thing on your mind is probably getting accepted into the school(s) of your choice. As you select and apply to colleges, you should also be educating yourself about college financial aid and the cost of the colleges you wish to attend.
There are plenty of ways to pay for college, so don’t let the price tag of a school scare you off. Just be sure you understand that paying for college today is no small task; the average cost of one year at an in-state 4-year public school is $18,943 and $42,419 for a 4-year private school1. Once you receive your financial aid award packages from the colleges to which you applied and were accepted, make sure you compare college costs carefully. Check to see what the total cost of each college is, compared to the amount of scholarships and grants you were given at each school. If you need help, use our Comparing Colleges Calculator.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to start thinking about how you are going to pay for college. You and your family should start making a college budget, learning about college financial aid and applying for college scholarships now. Free money, like scholarships and grants, is always the best way to pay for college. Once you’ve exhausted free money, and any money your family is willing to contribute towards your education costs, you’ll want to start researching college student loans.
Although most colleges will work with you on your financial aid package and help you as much as possible, the reality is that if you cannot pay your college bill, you won’t be going to college. Most colleges will not allow you to register for classes until your bill is paid. So start learning about financial aid:
College student loans are a necessity for many college students, given the cost of college today. Before taking out loans for college, you should work hard to get college scholarships. Some students also work part-time to save money before going to college. Once your efforts have been exhausted, you’ll probably need to use loans for college.
There are two types of college student loans, federal and private. A federal student loan, such as the Direct Stafford Loan, is an inexpensive way to borrow money for college. Payments are not due until 6 months after you graduate, or drop below half-time enrollment. The trouble with federal loans for college is that they have low borrowing limits, that are based on your grade level and school status. You may not be able to borrow enough to cover your entire college costs. For more information on federal loans for college, check out our Student Loan Guide.
If a federal college loan doesn’t provide all the money you need to pay for your college expenses, consider private loans for college. A private student loan can help you get the money you need to pay for school expenses such as tuition, room & board, books, travel, food and more. Many undergraduate students find that they need to use a private student loan in order to pay for today’s 4-year public and private school costs. You can generally apply for a private student loan once you have accepted a college offer and are enrolled in school, usually the summer before your freshman year. For more information on private loans for college, check out the following sections:
If your son or daughter is going to college, perhaps the best thing you can do as a parent is to oversee the college financial aid process. Coming up with thousands of dollars can be a daunting task for a high school student. As a parent, you can also help your student obtain loans for college. Federal student loans for college, such as the Direct Stafford Loan, are made in your child’s name. In many cases, the Direct Stafford Loan limits won’t be enough to pay for all of your child’s college costs, and you may need to assist your child with a private student loan. Private loans for college are also made in your child’s name, but almost all undergraduate students will need a credit-worthy co-signer in order to get approved. For more information, check out our section on Becoming a Co-signer.
There are also parent loans for college available in your name through the Direct PLUS Loan Program (see our section on Parent Student Loans).