Sit down together and discuss how much you can afford to pay for college. Then talk about how you’ll cover the rest. Will you look for scholarships and file for federal financial aid? Will you get a job or apply for a work-study program? Will you take out loans? Learn about your options for covering the cost of college.


A scholarship is a gift or award of money for you to use toward college. Unlike loans, scholarships don’t need to be repaid. So they might be the best way to cover college costs! Scholarships can be given for all four years of college or one year at a time. This means you may need to re-apply each year.

Some scholarships are merit-based. This means they’re given because of an achievement. Other scholarships are need-based. This means they’re given to help students who are eligible based on their ability to afford college. And athletic scholarships are awarded for athletic ability.

Some scholarships are designed to help people from specific groups, like students with disabilities or military veterans. They’re offered by schools, employers, individuals, nonprofits, religious groups, and more. There’s a scholarship out there for almost anyone you can imagine – including left-handed students and aspiring asparagus farmers!

To land scholarships, you’ll have to do some legwork. You’ll need to find them and apply for them before their deadlines. Ready to start scholarship hunting? Check out Search for Scholarships.

Student Loans

A student loan is money you borrow to pay for college. You’ll need to pay it back, plus interest, after you leave school. Loans offer a way to pay for the portion of college that you can’t afford right now.

Your first step is to fill out the FAFSA. Each college you list on the FAFSA will send you a financial aid package that may include loans. There are two types of student loans: federal loans and private loans.

Federal Loans

Federal loans are funded by the federal government. They’re usually the best place to start. They offer benefits like fixed interest rates, income-driven repayment plans, and some loan forgiveness programs. You also don’t have to start repaying them until after you’ve left school. Read more at’s Federal Student Loan Programs PDF.

Private Loans

Private student loans are consumer loans provided by credit unions, banks, online lenders, or nonprofit agencies. Private loans can help you close the gap between college costs and financial aid. We encourage you to maximize your federal loan eligibility before pursuing private student loans.

Private loans may offer fewer benefits than federal loans. Private lenders can offer a variety of repayment terms and options.

You should only borrow what you need. You can borrow less than your school offers. And you can request more loan funds later if you need to. Read more about the types of student loans at the Federal Student Aid website.


Time to empty the piggy bank. Any amount of college savings is a good thing. Different types of savings are counted differently on the FAFSA and may impact how much aid you qualify for. But remember that every dollar you’ve saved is a dollar you won’t have to borrow and pay interest on. It isn’t too late to start saving – check out Start Saving for tips. Bone up on 529 plans and other savings options.


A grant is a type of financial aid that you don’t need to repay. It’s similar to a scholarship and is usually given based on financial need. Grants are usually funded by federal and state government and schools, and are awarded based on the FAFSA. They’re usually included in the financial aid offers you’ll receive from schools. You’ll probably need to file the FAFSA to re-qualify for grants each year.

Some federal grants, like Pell grants, are for undergraduate students with more substantial financial need. Others, like TEACH (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) grants, are given to aspiring teachers. You must complete a teaching service requirement after you graduate, or you’ll have to repay the grant plus interest. Learn more about grants at the Federal Student Aid website.

Work-Study Programs

A federal work-study job lets you work part-time to earn money for school. You’ll work on or off campus and earn at least minimum wage. The program is available to undergraduate and graduate students. Your work-study award depends on your level of need. Check with your school’s financial aid office to find out if they participate in the program. Read more about work-study programs at the Federal Student Aid website. And please note that you don’t need to qualify for work-study to work on campus. You can still apply for on-campus jobs!

Looking for more info on financial aid?

Read all about financial aid in our comprehensive Financial Aid Insider PDF.

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