Paying for college tips

The basics

We have some of the most commonly asked questions from students and families about how to pay for college. Stay informed with these tips and share with others who may need help navigating #PayingForCollege.

How can I pay for college without taking out student loans?

College is not cheap, but a college education is invaluable! If money is the biggest obstacle, consider these options.

  • Start with money you and your family have saved for college and include any income that you can put toward college.
  • Maximize free money you don’t have to pay back with scholarships and grants.
  • Consider part-time employment through the Federal Work-Study Program to help with education related expenses while you’re enrolled in school. To qualify, you need to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

If you still need help footing the bill, that’s when you may want to consider a student loan or a tuition payment plan. Tuition payment plans let you split the annual bill into equal monthly payments. Most colleges offer them, and you’ll need to contact the school to get it set up. Other ways to cut back on costs may include commuting to college, attending college part-time while working, or attending a 2-year college and then transferring to another school once you’ve saved enough money.

What is the cost of attendance?
The cost of attendance or “COA” for short, is a college’s estimate of the total amount you may need to cover for one year of college. It includes billed or sometimes referred to as “direct costs” like tuition and fees, on-campus housing, and meal plans. It also includes out-of-pocket expenses or “indirect costs” like books and supplies, transportation, and depending on your enrollment status, it may also include personal expenses. Colleges adjust the COA yearly to reflect changes to these costs. Every college or university will have a different COA estimate.
Am I required to borrow the student loans that are listed in my financial aid package?

You don’t have to accept all the financial aid listed in your financial aid package. Let’s say you’re offered work-study, but you know you’re going to be too busy with schoolwork. Or the amount of the federal loan you’re qualified for is more than you want to take out. You can say “no” to all or part of a financial aid offer or ask your school’s financial aid office to further review your financial situation.

Whether you decide to accept or decline your financial aid package, you’ll need to respond to the offer. Each school sets a deadline for a response, so don’t miss out, whether it’s mailing back a signed form or answering online. If you decide to request more financial aid from a school, talk to your financial aid office. There might be a written process to request a review of your financial situation.

Are scholarships and grants good for every year of college?
It depends. Some may be for one year and some may be for multiple years. If you get a multi-year scholarship from a college, university, or organization—make sure you know the requirements to keep it. No scholarship is guaranteed.
I’ve heard about students working on campus. Are jobs available to help me cover some of my expenses?
Getting work-study in your financial aid offer means you’re eligible to work on or off campus in a designated work-study position. Some schools will assign you a work-study job, but others may require you to find your own when the semester starts. Unlike a scholarship or loan that goes directly to the school and is credited to your bill, the money you earn from your work-study will be sent directly to you—just like a paycheck. Work-study can be a great way to help pay for smaller expenses like books. To qualify for work-study, you need to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

FAFSA®

We have some of the most commonly asked questions by students and families about how to pay for college. Stay informed with these tips and share with others who may need help navigating #PayingForCollege.

Why is it important to file the FAFSA and do I need to file it every year I’m in school?

Filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the single most important thing students can do to get money for college. It’s the gateway to more than $150 billion in grants, work-study funds, and federal student loans according to the office of Federal Student Aid. Filing a new FAFSA each year is the only way to remain eligible for federal student aid. Don’t assume the decision, amount, or type of aid will be the same each year.

What information do I need to fill out the FAFSA?

You’ll need to provide:

  • Your driver’s license and Social Security number
  • You may need your parents’ Social Security numbers and birthdates
  • Your family’s latest federal income tax returns
  • W-2 forms
  • Bank statements
  • Information on your family’s investments (real estate, money market funds, stocks, etc.)
Am I an independent student if I’m 18 years old?

To meet the age requirement for independence, the student must be 24 years old or older. To find out if you qualify as an independent student, visit the federal student aid website.

Do I include both parents’ information on the FAFSA if my parents are divorced or separated?

If your parents are divorced or separated, the custodial parent is responsible for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. That’s the parent with whom you lived the most and received the most financial support during the past 12 months. If the parent you are reporting on your FAFSA is remarried, your stepparent’s information is also required. Once the FAFSA is received by the school, the college or university may request the non-custodial parent information on a separate form. This is more common at private, high cost institutions, and you can find more information on your school’s website. For certain circumstances, visit the federal student aid website to learn more about when to include your divorced or separated parents info on your FAFSA form.

Can I apply for the FAFSA if my parents are undocumented, but I am a legal resident?

Your parents’ citizenship status does not affect your eligibility for federal student aid. In fact, the FAFSA does not ask about your parents’ status. If your parent does not have a Social Security number, you may simply enter all zeroes in the question that asks about their number on the FAFSA. Because your parents don’t have a valid Social Security number, they will not be able to create the FSA ID and therefore cannot sign the FAFSA electronically. In this case, you should electronically sign and submit the FAFSA form, then print the signature page so that your parents can sign it. Once they have signed it, you should mail it in. Note: It will take longer to process your FAFSA, so plan accordingly.

Is the FAFSA the only application for financial aid?

Some colleges require an institutional or other application to determine eligibility for financial aid. You may be asked to complete the CSS Profile or other form to apply for need-based institutional dollars. Some private schools use both the data from the FAFSA and the CSS Profile to determine eligibility for their own funding.

Does it really matter if I file the FAFSA by a school’s designated “priority” deadline?
Federal student aid applications can be submitted starting October 1. File your FAFSA for free with Frank1. Federal financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so know your deadlines and apply as early as you can. College and state financial aid deadlines vary by state. Schools often use a priority deadline to further determine student eligibility. Visit the school’s website or contact its financial aid office to get the school’s deadline. Check your state’s financial aid deadline on the Federal Student Aid website.

Financial aid offers

We have some of the most commonly asked questions by students and families about how to pay for college. Stay informed with these tips and share with others who may need help navigating #PayingForCollege.

When can I expect to receive my financial aid offers?
You’ll receive an financial aid offer after you’ve submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and have been accepted to the college. The timing for receiving your financial aid offer will vary by school. Most colleges send out offers in late March or early April. Check with the school to see how you should expect your letter to arrive – in the mail, via email, or the website.
What types of financial aid will show up on a financial aid offer?

There are a few different types of financial aid that the student can be offered in an financial aid offer:

  • Need-based grants from the state or federal governments.
  • Need-, merit-, or interest-based scholarships from the school, company, or private organization.
  • Federal Work-Study is a program where the student can apply for an on or off campus designated work-study position to earn money to help pay for expenses. The money earned from work-study goes directly to the student, just like a regular paycheck.
  • Federal student loans let you borrow money directly from the federal government; you pay this financial aid back with interest. A financial aid offer may also list the amount you can borrow with a credit-based loan (like a federal Direct PLUS Loan or a private student loan).
Why do financial aid offers look so different?
There’s no standard format for financial aid offers, so comparing offers can be difficult. The best way to compare your financial aid offers is to familiarize yourself with what’s in them.

  • Start by locating the total amount of financial aid you’re being offered. This might include grants, scholarships, and work-study, which is a paying job on campus. And good news, you don’t have to pay any of these back.
  • You’ll also see if you’re eligible for federal student loans, which you will need to pay back—with interest—if you choose to use them.
  • Next, see if your offer lists your college’s cost of attendance, or COA. This is an estimate of what one year of college could cost. COA includes tuition and fees, room and board, books, and depending on your enrollment status, it may include personal expenses. If COA isn’t included in your financial aid offer, you’ll want to find it on the college’s website. The COA will help you understand if there are college costs you’ll need to cover on your own or if there are parts of your financial aid offer you don’t need.
  • Once you know how much financial aid you’ll accept, you want to subtract that number from the cost of attendance. The remainder is sometimes called “the gap” or your out-of-pocket costs. This is the amount you might need to cover on your own—by using your income and savings, finding more scholarships, using a tuition payment plan, or taking out student loans.
How do you apply for work-study?
When you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), select the box on the application that indicates you want to be considered for work-study. You should fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible because some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Selecting this option doesn’t guarantee that a work-study option will be included in your financial aid offer.
Can you lose financial aid?
Students must be making Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) to remain eligible for federal student aid and college financial aid. Check with your school to see their SAP policy so you know what’s required of you to keep your financial aid.

Scholarships and grants

We have some of the most commonly asked questions from students and families about how to pay for college. Stay informed with these tips and share with others who may need help navigating #PayingForCollege.

What are scholarships and grants?
Scholarships and grants are money for college you don’t need to pay back. They can range from $50 all the way up to a full ride, which is a scholarship that covers full tuition for all four years. College grants are given out by the federal government or a state government based on what’s called “financial need.” College scholarships can be based on need or based on what’s called “merit”—an outstanding strength or skill you can bring to your college community. There are two types of merit scholarships. The first are offered by colleges and universities and could be awarded to a student based on their talent for soccer, a commitment to volunteering in the community, or strong grades. The second are merit scholarships you find and apply for on your own. They’re usually based on your hobbies and interests. To qualify for a need-based grant or scholarship, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Where can I find scholarships?
The first rule is to never pay for scholarships. There are a lot of options when it comes to finding free money for college. A great place to start is with your school counselor. Ask them if they know about any scholarships from your town, local clubs, non-profit organizations, or companies. Reach out to family members, too, to see if their employers have scholarships you can apply for. You can also register for a free scholarship search tool online. Just answer a few questions about your hobbies, skills, and interests, and it serves up scholarship opportunities that might be right for you. Sometimes scholarships require a little work like writing an essay or submitting a creative entry along with the application. Know your deadlines and apply early and often. There’s no limit to how much free money you can get.
Can I apply for scholarships even if I am receiving financial aid?
You sure can! You may be awarded a need-based or merit-based scholarship from the government or college you’re accepted to which would be included in your financial aid offer package. To qualify, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). But you can also apply for other scholarships on your own. You may hear the college refer to these as “outside scholarships;” scholarships not awarded by the government or college. These scholarships can be based on things like your hobbies, field of study, ethnicity, religion, and more. There’s no limit for how many scholarships you can apply for. Remember to apply for scholarships every year in college.
Can scholarships affect my financial aid package?
Schools are required to consider all sources of financial aid when determining a student’s financial aid package. If you’ve been awarded an outside scholarship you should report it to the college’s financial aid office. An outside scholarship is any scholarship not awarded by the college or the government. You can ask the college’s financial aid office how your award may impact your overall financial aid.
Why doesn’t my scholarship cover everything?
Most scholarships do not cover the full cost of college. It’s important to look at the school’s cost of attendance, or “COA” for short, for an estimate of one year of education. The COA includes items like tuition and fees, housing, and meal plans. Your scholarship may not cover all of these expenses, but it will certainly help! Some scholarships may be for one year while others may span multiple years of school. If you get a multiyear scholarship from a college, university, or organization—make sure you know the requirements to keep it. No scholarship is guaranteed.

Student loans

We have some of the most commonly asked questions from students and families about how to pay for college. Stay informed with these tips and share with others who may need help navigating #PayingForCollege.

What are federal student loans?

Federal student loans come from the government. You’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—or FAFSA—to be eligible for one. The interest rate on a federal student loan is fixed, so it stays the same for the life of your loan. Each year, the government can reset the interest rate on federal student loans for the upcoming school year so you may see a slight difference in the interest rate from one year to the next. There are several types of federal student loans, including:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans: These loans are based on what’s called “financial need” and are made directly to the student. Subsidized loans do not accrue (grow) interest while the student is enrolled in school at least half-time or during deferment periods (when payment is postponed).
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans: These loans are not need-based and are also made directly to the student. Interest on these loans begins accruing as soon as the loan is disbursed (sent to the school). The borrower is responsible for paying back the loan plus the interest accrued while in school.
  • Direct PLUS Loans (Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students): These loans can be taken out by parents to help pay for their child’s college education.
What are private student loans?

Private student loans are available through financial companies and credit unions. These loans are credit-based, which means you need a good credit score to qualify for one. Since students may not have much credit history yet, they may need a cosigner to qualify for a private student loan. A cosigner can be a responsible adult who has built up good credit. It’s important to remember, cosigning is the same as signing. That means the cosigner is equally responsible for paying back the money a student borrows.

Private student loans are generally available with fixed and variable interest rates. Some may also offer a variety of repayment plan options and other benefits. To find the best private student loan for you, you’ll want to shop around and compare interest rates and benefits.

Is there a limit to how much I can borrow in federal student loans?
The amount of federal student loans undergraduate students can borrow each year is capped by the government, so there’s a limit to how much you can borrow. These amounts are different for independent students. Check out the Federal Student Aid website to know how much you can borrow. Your financial aid offer will include any federal student loans you’re eligible for. You’re not required to accept the full amount or any of this financial aid. Whether you decide to accept or decline the loans in your financial aid package, you’ll need to respond to the school.
How do I know if I need a student loan?
Your financial aid offer can help you figure out how you’ll pay for school. Add up how much financial aid you’re getting in grants, scholarships, and work-study. Once you know the amount of this financial aid you’ll accept from a school, you’ll want to subtract that number from the cost of attendance (COA). The remainder is sometimes called “the gap” or your out-of-pocket costs. It’s the amount you may need to pay on your own—by using your income, savings, money from a 529 savings account, a tuition payment plan, finding more scholarships, or taking out a student loan.
How much should I borrow?
To get a sense for how much money you will be able to pay back, try to estimate everything you’ll need to borrow to pay for your degree—not just one year of college. Having a sense of the total cost will help you make the right decision. Don’t forget to also take note of your loan’s potential interest rate and loan term—that’s the number of years you have to repay your loan. These can affect how much money you’ll owe.
When do I have to start repaying my student loans?
Federal and private student loans offer different repayment plans. It’s important to understand all the repayment options available to you from your student loan provider. You will generally have a six-month grace period before you begin making monthly payments. This grace period begins when you either graduate from college or no longer meet the necessary enrollment requirements. Following a six-month grace period, you generally begin to make principal and interest payments. For private student loans, you may have the option to make fixed or interest payments while in school. Loans may be set up on a ten-year repayment plan, but you may be able to select a shorter loan term or extend the term. You should talk to your student loan provider for more information.
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