If you’re worried about how you’re going to pay for college then you’re not alone.


The cost of college is rising every year and the decision to further your education or not is often blocked by financial concerns of having to pay it all back or fork it out upfront. Not everyone has the ability to pay upfront and with the current costs of two-year schools being in the thousands for even in-district pricing – it can be a pretty hefty discussion.

Average price tags for yearly tuition and fees:

  • Public Two-Year College (In-District): ~$3,500
  • Public Four-Year College (In-State): ~$11,000
  • Public Four-Year College (Out-of-State): ~$27,000
  • Private Four-Year College: ~$35,000

Keep in mind, that’s just tuition and fees and doesn’t always cover all the other costs associated with going off to college or university. Another thing to note is that a two-year degree isn’t always sought after in the national marketplace. A majority of your careers will require a four-year degree or more. That doesn’t mean you can’t find a high paying job at a young age, it will just be harder.

How to Pay for College

To pay for college you really only have two options: you pay it yourself or you get help. If you’re paying for it yourself then you’re most likely going to have savings or your parents have already set up programs, or their own savings, to do so for you.


If you’re paying for college yourself then you’ll need to take advantage of your savings but many other options like scholarships, grants, FAFSA or even student loans.


No matter what method of payment or college route you take – it’s expensive. Paying for college has become one of the biggest economic problems in America. It can take anywhere from 10 to 30 years to pay off your student loans depending on the repayment plan. The average student leaves college with around $35,000 in student debt and in many cases students leave with more due to interest.

Steps to Paying for College

Before you even consider taking out student loans (we suggest you try and avoid them at all costs) there are basic steps to take and some ways you can even shave off some of the cost of college.


The steps to take before you apply for student loans are:

  1. File a FAFSA Application
  2. Find Scholarships
  3. Select Affordable Schools
  4. Find Grants
  5. Find Work-Studies
  6. Use Savings
  7. Apply for Federal Student Loans
  8. Apply for Private Student Loans

If you’ve exhausted all of the resources above then you’re most likely going to have to take out some student loans. There are two types: federal and private. You’ll want to stick to federal as much as possible as they offer benefits many private loans do not, like income-driven repayment plans.

File a FAFSA Application

You should fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) even if you don’t expect to qualify for aid. A majority of your schools will request one anyways or just assume you’ll be paying in cash. The FAFSA is your entry ticket to any financial aid available at the schools and it puts you in the pool for potential grants and loans from the government. You cannot get money from the government without filling out a FAFSA.


You’ll want to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible because some colleges only award money on a first-come, first-serve basis. The FAFSA application opens the door for federal grants, work-study opportunities, student loans and some school specific aid.

Find Scholarships

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to wait for your senior year of high-school to start applying for scholarships. You should start looking for scholarship opportunities the moment you enter high-school as many of the higher value ones require time and effort.


For example, for the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes scholarship several of the past winners have run funding campaigns for animal preservation or have started their own non-profit to inspire change.


Unlike student loans, a scholarship doesn’t have to be paid back. There are thousands and thousands of dollars available for those that look for them and apply for them. Many of the scholarships will still require you to submit a FAFSA first but most also have an additional application to go along with it. If you have any hobbies, extracurricular activities or even favorite companies you should research and look at ways you can get scholarships around those. You’d be surprised at how many scholarships are out there for just about anything you can think of.

Select an Affordable School

It’s true that many colleges and universities are favored over others when it comes to the job market. The truth is, after you’ve secured your first job for on-paper experience, the degree matters less and less as years go on. Something you’ll have to keep in mind is that affordable doesn’t always mean the lowest price.


Paying for college will be extremely easier if you choose a school that has a reasonable price for your lifestyle and budget. If you’re not ready to drop thousands of dollars on your education, there are other options. You can opt to go to a community college or even a trade/technical school to secure a degree. These schools tend to be a bit cheaper to attend and can still pave the same path a university would but they take a bit more work.


If you do opt for a four-year university, you should select them based on aid offered to students. You should focus on the net price of the school, which is the cost to you after all scholarships and grants have been applied. Most schools have a financial aid calculator that you can use to guess how much your net price will be with all of your funding.


When you’re applying for college you shouldn’t ignore schools with an immediate higher price tag. Many of these schools offer more in aid than smaller and more “affordable” schools. For example, a university that costs $50,000 a year may offer you $30,000 in aid whereas a university that’s only $25,000 a year may offer you no aid. In this case it’s more “affordable” to go to the school that has a higher ticket price because of the aid they offer you.

Find Grants

A grant is a sum of money given by the government or organizations to be used for schooling. In nearly every case, you’ll need to fill out a FAFSA before you can be selected for any grants. It’s best to fill out a FAFSA as early as you can. A grant most people forget about is the Pell Grant. This grant is given to nearly everyone that qualifies for it. It’s free money up to $5,500 per year depending on your EFC value.


The best thing about applying for grants is that you don’t have to pay them back.


Aside from the Pell Grant, the government offers several more grants at the federal and state level. If you’re not applying for a FAFSA or these grants you could be leaving thousands of dollars on the table to make college cheaper.

You can use this map to look up grants in your state to apply for.

Find Work-Studies

A work-study will allow you to work while you’re going to school and it will provide income, work experience and potentially lead to a full-time job post graduation. A federal work-study program funds the part-time job for college students.


In order to get a work-study you have to apply for FAFSA. If you do quality you will see a line item for a work-study on your financial aid award from the school. The next thing you have to do is find an eligible work-study position on your campus and apply for it. If you get it and you work enough hours, they’ll give you the aid.

Use Savings

Hardly anyone can go to college without tapping into their savings for something, even if it’s not to pay their tuition bill. There are tons of expenses that come with going to a university that many don’t even realize. Your aid and student loans are all handled by the school and don’t always give you lump sums of cash to just spend.


A typical family covers around 43-50% of the cost of college with savings or a college savings plan. If your parents set up a 529 Plan you can access funds by talking to your plan’s administrator.

Apply for Federal Student Loans

If you’ve exhausted all of your efforts, you can take out federal student loans. These loans come with several benefits that outweigh private loans in every scenario. You don’t have to say yes to all of the loans offered to you and we suggest you don’t. You should aim to have a student loan payment of less than 10% of your monthly income post graduation. If you’re expecting to have a job making at least $5,000/month then you should try to have your loan payments be $500 or less per month.


If you need to borrow money, opt for federal loans over private student loans. They have income-driven repayment plans and often forgive loans if you’re in the right field.

Apply for Private Student Loans

If you’ve tapped out every option for aid and even maxed your federal loans then your own choice is to find some private school loans. We urge you to avoid these whenever possible as they can be very detrimental to your credit score and financial future.


You’ll want to shop around and find the right lender just like you would when buying a house or buying a car. These loans will accrue interest while you’re in school and unless you have a rock solid interest rate then you are most likely going to pay 1.5-2x the amount you’re taking out as a loan. Unlike federal loans, these loans do not come with income-driven payments and other benefits. If you can’t pay you may face default and other legal action.