FinancesJar of money that reads, "college fund"

College costs money, and students typically wonder if it’s worth the cost. A college education is best viewed as a family investment. Your student–and you–are spending time and money to improve your student’s chances for a good future. But adding the cost of books, tuition, and other expenses to a family budget can be challenging.

Paying for college can be achieved through several different sources of funds. Most students work at least a few hours a week to pay for some of their expenses, but no student can work enough hours to pay for attending college full time. There are federal grants, loans, and work study funds to assist students who qualify. Colleges and universities also may provide grants, and they will develop a financial aid package that outlines the combination of grants, loans, and other sources available to your student. But when colleges and universities determine financial aid packages, there is usually some amount of family contribution expected.

Financial aid is just really scary. I’m about to apply for something that determines how much money I’m going to get, and I don’t have any help.

Second-semester computer science major

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A critical step in determining college funding is the Free Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA. In order to apply for federal funding and qualify for college grants and loans, students must fill out a FAFSA application. The application requires students to provide information about their own and their family’s income, Social Security numbers, Alien Registration numbers if not a citizen, tax information, and other financial and banking records. Parents may be uncomfortable providing some of this information to their students, and you may choose to fill out those portions of the application yourself, but the student is responsible for all information provided. The information on the FAFSA is used to determine how much federal funding and loans the student qualifies for and whether the student is eligible for work study employment.

A checklist of information needed for the FAFSA is available online.

If students will be working while attending school, a campus job or a job near campus provides multiple benefits. When students spend time at the college outside of class time, they connect better to their role as a member of the school community. With a part-time campus job, they are likely to work with professional and student employees who can provide advice about classes to take, resources to use, and people who can help answer their questions. In many cases they can gain work experience related to their major or future career opportunities.

Scholarship Information

Many schools consider scholarship awards and grants when they accept first-year students. This type of financial assistance can be based on need or on factors related to the student’s history of success as measured by high school grades, leadership, athletics, or specific skills.

Educational Scholarship steps

While financial aid packages for the first year can specify these initial scholarships and grants, additional scholarships may be available to students as they move through their academic education, based on their major, their year in college, or activities they’ve participated in while at college. Students should let their academic adviser and professors know if they are willing to apply for additional funding; advisers and faculty often know about scholarships within their department or division.

In addition, students can do a scholarship search online.

Note: Students should never have to pay to fill out a FAFSA, nor should they pay for scholarship information.

For additional information on finances and spending, see College Finances.