How am I Going to Pay for a College Education?

College Financial Aid, Grant & Scholarship Information from CollegeView.comFor a lot of parents, the first question that comes to mind when their teenagers prepare to attend college is, “How am I going to pay for this?”Let’s face it—college is expensive! The good news: more than half of all college students receive financial aid. Unfortunately, the financial aid process isn’t something most of us know much about until we have to dive right into it. Hopefully this column can help you understand what you’re getting into before you sign on the dotted line.

Scholarships and grants are the best kinds of financial aid. You don’t have to pay those back. Scholarships and grants can either be “need based,”given because of the financial situation of the student and her family, or “merit based,”awarded to a student for strong academic skills or talents. Some scholarships are a blend of need and merit.

While scholarships and grants may be what you’re hoping for, there are never enough of those to go around. And, rising tuition could mean you will have to pay a larger share of the college costs.

Loans are a form of financial aid that you will have to pay back. Loans based on financial need often have lower interest rates and are subsidized by the federal government. Loans not based on need are generally not subsidized, and you will end up paying a higher interest rate. Make sure you understand all of the terms of any loans—the interest rate, the repayment schedule, and when repayment must begin— before you commit.

Work-study programs require your student to work in order to receive money for school. Students typically work 10 to 15 hours per week but no more than 20. Work-study jobs are usually on campus, pay at least minimum wage, and can be related to your student’s major. A woman I know majored in animal science in college on her way to becoming a veterinarian. She worked at the university’s veterinary hospital as part of her work-study program. Because of that connection, she had a leg up when applying to the vet school.

When you apply for need-based financial aid, be prepared to provide a lot of financial information. It’s a little like filling out your income taxes, and you’ll need many of the same records. The form usually required is called the FAFSA—the Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You want to fill it out as early as you can in order to get the best shot at financial aid because some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. You can find the FAFSA online at

The government uses the FAFSA to formulate an Expected Family Contribution (EFC)—the amount of money that your family is expected to pay for college expenses each year. I was more than a little shocked when I learned how much the government thought we should be able to pay toward our kids’ college educations! You can get an idea of your EFC using the free financial aid need estimator at Just keep in mind that colleges can have different ways of assessing need and awarding non-federal aid.

Financial aid is complex, confusing, and even frustrating. The good news is that it does get easier each time you do it. (Yes, you have to do it for each child and every year they are in college.) Just remember: start early, make sure that the information you provide is accurate, and meet every deadline. And, once you get those aid offers, compare them carefully. Most of all, be sure you read and understand everything before you sign anything!


This article was written by Rose Rennekamp

Rose Rennekamp is the chairman of the board for the Iowa College Access Network and the former vice president of communications for ACT. She is a mom and has a Master of Education in guidance and counseling.


  1. Elizabeth Addai Bofah

    I am a Ghanaian living in Ghana,I want to travel to USA and study but dont have any financial help.I am a professional teacher and french is my major,please is there any help for me?

  2. Carla

    MY son is enrolled at Eastern Kentucky University and plans to get his bachelors degree in aviation~with professional flight emphasis. Our EFC was just under $3000 and we were going to make that work somehow. Much to our dismay, 2 1/2 wks before classes begin, we find ourselves in quite a situation. Because of fees that were added when he registered for classes, he is now around $18000 short for the year. He has no credit history and has never worked because I wanted him to put school and band first. We can’t co-sign because I have MS with a lot of medical bills that have destroyed our credit. Where is he supposed to get the money to make up the difference? We even checked into Airforce ROTC and they couldn’t guarantee any scholarship money at all even if he committed to service. He shouldn’t have to be rich to realize his dream of becoming a commercial pilot.

  3. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an really long comment
    but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not
    writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

  4. sherice griffiths

    Hello, i’m trying to get back into college after having a baby, but don’t have the money for the course fee’s, i’m 21 years old on the 31st of july this year, i’m on benefits to support me and my daughter, would i be able to get support so i can carry on my dreams of working in a children’s environment, i’ve been to a few colleges but then i got older and told i had to pay for my next course and didn’t have the money and then fell pregnant.

  5. Maria Marzano

    Hello, I was just wondering since I am doing the work study program. Have gotten financial aid scholarship grants and worked out my student loans how else I can pay for college? I have to fill out many more scholarships throughout my stay but even with the help I have gotten I have still not been able to acquire the amount that is in my parent’s budget. I dont know what else to do as I am starting school in about 2 1/2 weeks and I’m slightly overwhelmed with being able to pay this off let alone for next years tuition as well? Any ideas?

  6. susan guido

    I figured my family contribution is 15,000. I can not afford to pay this. Any advice what I can do to help my daughter get into the college she wants. They will give her a grant for the rest of the tuition.

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