You’ll want to start to plan for how you’ll pay for college as soon as possible. Setting expectations about money before you begin the college search process will go a long way toward making decisions that will work for everyone involved.
So let’s get started:
What Does Paying for College Mean to Everyone Involved?
First, ask these 3 questions:
- What does affordable mean to you as a student? If your parents will be helping to pay for college, does affordable mean the same to them?
- Is there a set amount you’re willing or able to contribute toward college costs?
- Is there a set amount your parents or other relatives are willing or able to contribute?
How Much Do You Expect to Pay for College or Career Training?
Colleges and other career training programs vary widely in their costs.
Do you know where you might want to go to college? Visit the school’s website to find out their tuition, fees, and costs for room and board. And stay positive even if costs seem high! There are many resources out there to help you pay for college.
Use these tools to help figure out how much you or your family may need to pay for college or career training:
- FAFSA4caster: Estimate your or your family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and see if you may qualify for financial aid. The EFC is the dollar amount a student or student’s family can reasonably be expected to contribute toward college costs. Your EFC is decided based on the information you enter on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—a form that all students need to complete to be eligible for federal and other financial aid.
- College Net Price Calculators: Many college websites provide a tool called a Net Price Calculator. With this tool, you can enter information about yourself and your family to find out what students like you have paid to attend that school in the past. These calculators only provide estimates, but can be helpful as you compare schools and their costs. To search for colleges’ net price calculators, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Net Price Calculator Center.
It’s best to use the FAFSA4caster and net price calculators only as guides. Always talk directly with financial aid staff at each school about how much aid you may be able to receive.
How Will You Pay for College or Career Training?
Most individuals and families rely on a mix of financial resources to pay for college or career training. These include:
- Savings and investments: Saving early is the least expensive way to pay for college. Parents can invest in a college savings program, relatives and friends can contribute as birthday and holiday gifts, and students can save some of their own earnings from part-time jobs. One option is a tax-saving qualified tuition program (called a 529 plan) like the Vermont Higher Education Investment Plan (VHEIP).
Questions to consider:
- Will you have any savings by the start of college? How much can you use to pay for your education?
- How much will your parents or other relatives have saved by the start of college? How much will/can they use to help pay for your education?
- Current Income: You and your family should know how much of your current income can go towards paying for college or career training. Keep in mind that many colleges offer payment plans. These plans let you make smaller, more affordable tuition payments spread out over the school year.
- Employer tuition reimbursement plans or student loan discount programs: Some employers will give you back the money you spend on college courses or training programs related to your job. Others may offer special student loan discounts for employees. Talk to your employer about the resources that may be available to you.
- Financial aid: You’re not on your own when it comes to paying for college or career training! Most students get some kind of financial aid to help. Financial aid is money (grants, scholarships, loans, or work study programs) that helps students with the costs of higher education.
You will apply for and receive financial aid based on your own—or your family’s—financial situation, your unique achievements in academics, athletics, and other factors. Like many students, you may take out loans to pay for the costs remaining after any grants, scholarships, or work study you may receive.
Once you have applied to a school and been accepted, if you have completed the necessary financial aid applications, you will receive a letter from the school telling you about any financial aid you will receive. It is important to read these letters carefully to understand exactly what your aid package will be and what you are agreeing to.
Questions to consider:
- Are you a foster child or veteran or veteran’s family member who may qualify for a related scholarship program?
- Do you have special skills or talents that could lead to scholarships?
- Are you or your parents a member of an organization that may offer a scholarship?