College and Career Planning / Ages 14-18

How to Make a Plan to Pay for College

College isn’t cheap. Now’s the time to make a plan for how to pay for it.

Real talk: College can be expensive. But that doesn’t mean it has to be out of reach. If your high schooler thinks college is their goal, it’s a good idea to plan ahead as much as possible.

Our in-house college expert, Navigator Chris Espinoza, offers these pro tips:

  • The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is your friend. This single application will be your child’s stop for all federal financial aid, and they’ll fill it out in the year they’re applying to colleges. Students will need information from your tax return, as long as they’re living in your home.
  • But the FAFSA is only federal aid—and there are other sources of financial support out there, too. There are lots of other sources of money for college: For example, many workplaces and religious institutions make scholarships available for children of their employees or those in their communities. FastWeb is another great resource that will match students with possible scholarships based on their locations, interests, and demographic categories.
  • Think about expenses beyond tuition. Housing and food are obvious expenses, of course. But don’t forget other things like travel to and from college, the cost of books and materials, and spending money. 
  • Remember that some of the most expensive schools also have the most aid to offer. On paper, some private colleges can seem completely out of reach financially, especially when you compare them to in-state public universities. But some of the most expensive colleges also have the most financial aid to offer incoming students. Look for colleges that use a “need-blind admissions” process. This means your family’s finances are not taken into account when your student’s application is considered. Most (though not all) of these schools will make up the difference between what a family can pay (based on your household income) and the total cost of school. Aid will usually come as a mix of scholarships, loans, and work-study opportunities (and remember that the incidental costs above, like travel, are typically not included). Here’s a list of all 104 need-blind colleges in the United States.