Your Guide to Financing Your College Education

College is expensive — we understand.

As a future freshman, you have enough anxieties to deal with like: Will I be able to handle a college workload? Can I successfully do laundry all by myself? Will I like my college roommate?

The college admissions process can come with a lot of challenges, but paying for your degree does not need to add to your stress levels.

Here at Marymount University, we have years of experience helping students finance their college education, and that’s why we’ve put together this resource with everything you need to know about financing your college degree. This resource guides you through determining your college costs, looking at financing options, and debunking the sometimes complicated federal aid jargon.

We’ve done the research, so you can get back to figuring out how to separate your lights and darks.

Determining the Real Cost of
College

Determining the cost of college is tricky. It's a lot like those energetic car commercials you see on TV. The car is advertised for 48 simple monthly payments of $350 — seems simple right? But then you show up at the dealership and discover that there's a down payment they didn’t talk about, as well as taxes, fees, and that sunroof costs extra too.

Turns out the car isn’t as affordable as you first thought.

One way to determine how much college will actually cost, is through using a Net Price Calculator. This calculator uses the current average cost of a college education and accounts for the cost inflation, based on when you will begin and how long it will take to complete your degree. The cost calculator is a great tool to determine how much you need to save, and how much financial aid you need to seek.

However, college expenses are not limited to the price tag you see on their website. To gather an accurate picture of the cost of college there are five categories you should consider:

Five Categories to Consider:

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Tuition and Fees

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Room and Board

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Books and Supplies

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Personal Expenses

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Transportation

Keep in mind that the average cost (tuition, room, board, books, etc…) of a four-year degree will vary depending on where you go to school. Private/public and in/out of state makes a big difference in the price tag.

On average, the cost of a four year degree at a private university is $42,224. Public universities average less, with in-state costs coming to $21,447 and out of state costs totaling $33,973. Also consider that while the average cost of a private college may initially be more, many private colleges/universities are able to provide substantial grants and scholarships to help offset some of the cost.

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The average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, which is up six percent from last year. To avoid crippling student debt after graduation, it is important to calculate an accurate projected cost. This is the first step in making a plan to afford college. Next, you will want to research ways to pay the difference between the actual cost and what you can afford.

This guide provides you with several ideas for reducing your out-of-pocket college costs.

Understanding Your Options for
Financing College

What You Need to Know About Scholarships:

Regardless of which website you use or which scholarships you apply for, the best practice is to start applying and researching early (and no, freshman year of high school is not too early!). This will give you plenty of time to apply to an array of scholarships, giving you the best chance of receiving money.

Scholarships, like grants, are gifts of money that help to finance your college education, which will not need to be repaid.

So, what is the difference between a grant and a scholarship? Generally scholarships are merit based, while grants are usually need-based. There are a plethora of different scholarships available to a range of students.

Below are the top five websites students can use to find and apply for scholarships:

Fastweb.com

Fastweb is perhaps the most well known online resource when it comes to paying for and preparing for school.

There are scholarships for every type of student from the high school freshman to the returning adult. Fastweb has been around for over 20 years and has earned a reputation as a leading scholarship search provider. Fastweb not only finds scholarships but offers their members information on financial aid, jobs and internships, student life, and more. There is no cost to sign up, and you can immediately access thousands of scholarships.

When you sign up and fill out a profile, Fastweb will curate a list of scholarships that match your qualifications.

Scholarships.com

Scholarships.com, founded in 1998, has been matching students to scholarships for nearly 20 years. Scholarships.com helps students find money for college and provides information regarding the entire financial aid process. It is among the most widely-used and trusted free college scholarship search and financial aid information resources on the Internet and has been recognized by high schools and universities nationwide.

Scholarships.com is unique because of the solid relationships that they have built with colleges and universities across the country. They aim to provide students with the opportunity to not only find free money for college and interact with prospective colleges but to be recruited as well.

Chegg.com

Chegg.com is one of the premiere websites for helping today’s students navigate college. As a self-proclaimed “all in one big education-redefining student hub,” Chegg has everything from textbook sales, to course reviews, to study guides, and 24/7 student support. They also have a scholarship search engine where you can browse more than 25,000 available scholarships.

Through this free resource, you can complete a profile which will enable Chegg to match you to available scholarships. You can view featured scholarships and save the ones you would like to apply for in your profile.

Cappex.com

On Cappex, will you find thousands of private scholarships plus billions in merit aid. Cappex lets you know which scholarships are your “Best Bets”, depending on how hard they are to apply for and what the competition is likely to be, creating for you a list of the highest-value opportunities. Cappex.com also offers a free scholarship directory to help students find money for college. Scholarships can be searched for in a number of different ways.

For example, you can search scholarships based on ethnicity, gender, college major, or based on state, finding scholarships available for students in California or Illinois, for example. The Cappex scholarship search is free and registration is not required to view the scholarships.

ScholarshipPoints.com

The ScholarshipPoints program is unique, because it was created to help students win scholarships without the hassle of filling out paper applications and writing dozens of essays. By participating in the ScholarshipPoints.com community, high school and college students can earn points and enter scholarship drawings through their daily internet activities.

ScholarshipPoints was created in 2006 and is owned and operated by Edvisors, a company dedicated to helping students plan and pay for college. To date, Edvisors has given away more than $750,000 through the ScholarshipPoints program.

What are the Different Types of Grants?

Grants can come from the college, private organizations, or the federal government — with the federal government having the greatest ability to award grants. Grants for college students can also fall into two categories, depending on what eligibility requirements are attached to the funds. Need-based grants are issued to students exhibiting the greatest levels of financial hardship in paying for college these are the more common and popular type of grants. Merit-based grants are tied to performance, such as good grades and other personal achievements.

Like scholarships, grants do not require repayment. Make sure your college grant search begins with the Federal Government. These popular grant programs disburse money for college that can be applied all legitimate college expensive. The most popular federal grants are the Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG).

Pell Grant

To be eligible for a Pell Grant you must complete the FAFSA, as it is a need-based grant. Unlike loans, Pell Grants do not need to be repaid. For the 2017-18 award year, the maximum amount a student can receive is $5,920 per year. The amount awarded depends on your financial need, costs to attend school, status as a full-time or part-time student, and plans to attend school for a full academic year or less.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

To be eligible for a FSEOG you must complete the FAFSA. The FSEOG Program provides need-based grants to help low-income undergraduate students finance the costs of post secondary education. Students can receive these grants at any one of approximately 3,800 participating post secondary institutions. For the 2017-18 award year, the maximum amount a student can receive is $4,000 per year. When making FSEOG awards, the institution must give priority to those students with “exceptional need” (those with the lowest Expected Family Contributions, or EFCs, at the institution) and those who are also Federal Pell Grant recipients.

Understanding Federal Work-Study Programs:

Another option for financing your college education is a Federal Work-Study program. This program provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses. The program encourages community service and work related to the student’s course of study. The funds are administered by schools participating in the Federal Work-Study Program.

Check with your school's financial aid office to find out if your school participates.

Getting the Basics on College Loans:

Applying for a loan or in other words, borrowing money, is one of the ways many students are able to finance their college education. However, there are a few important things to consider before taking out a loan. Unlike other types of financial aid, loans are required to be paid back with interest. Read on to learn about the different types of loans you can take out and how you will be required to repay the money you borrow.

Need-Based Loans

Non-Need Based Loans

Private Loans

State Loans

Loan chart
Need Based Yes
Subsidized Yes
Sponsor Federal Government
Borrower Student - Undergraduate
Interest Rate (Loans disbursed after July 1, 2015) 4.29% (fixed)
Need Based No
Subsidized No
Sponsor Federal Government
Borrower Student - Undergraduate
Interest Rate (Loans disbursed after July 1, 2015) 4.29% (fixed)
Need Based No
Subsidized No
Sponsor Federal Government
Borrower Student - Graduate/ professional
Interest Rate (Loans disbursed after July 1, 2015) 5.84% (fixed)
Need Based Yes
Subsidized Yes
Sponsor Federal Government
Borrower Student
Interest Rate (Loans disbursed after July 1, 2015) 5% (fixed)
Need Based No
Subsidized No
Sponsor Federal Government
Borrower Parent (or graduate/ professional student)
Interest Rate (Loans disbursed after July 1, 2015) 6.84% (fixed)
Need Based No
Subsidized No
Sponsor Banks, colleges, foundations, state agencies
Borrower Usually student with creditworthy cosigner
Interest Rate (Loans disbursed after July 1, 2015) Usually higher than federal rates; variable
Source: CollegeBoard

Understanding the FAFSA:
Purpose and Requirements

What is the FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is a tool used by the Office of Federal Student Aid, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, which is the largest provider of student financial aid in the nation. The federal government uses this tool to calculate a student’s need for financial assistance. It takes into account multiple factors including income, debts, and assets. In order to receive aid such as federal grants, loans, or through a work-study, you must fill out and submit the FAFSA.

Why is the FAFSA important?

The FAFSA is important because it is the gateway for so many financial aid resources. Without completing it, you will not be eligible to receive need-based financial aid from the Federal government or from many colleges and universities.

Experts agree one of the most common reasons students don’t fill out the FAFSA is because they believe their parents make too much money, so they won’t qualify. This is a misconception, as “everyone is eligible for some form of financial aid, no matter their circumstances,” says Abigail Seldin, co-founder of College Abacus, a free college cost comparison tool.

She says most financial aid in the U.S. is awarded by universities rather than the government, and you usually can’t qualify for need-based or merit-based aid without a FAFSA on file. So, if you want to be considered for merit-based scholarships because of your athletic or academic achievements, you need to fill out the FAFSA, as most colleges require it to receive any aid.

How do you complete the FAFSA?

First, you want to create a FSA ID. This will allow you to electronically sign your FAFSA. If your parents are helping you fill out the FAFSA, they will need to create an ID as well. You will need to fill out the FAFSA each year that you are in school, as your financial situation can change. This helpful resource provides an overview of the FAFSA form and the application process with a walk-through of each application question.

To complete the FAFSA you will need the following items:

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Your Social Security Number

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Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)

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Your federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)

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Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)

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Records of untaxed income (if applicable)

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An FSA ID to sign electronically.

How long does it take to fill out the FAFSA?

Provided that you have all the necessary documents easily accessible, it takes most people about 30 minutes to fill out the FAFSA online.

If you’re not ready to file a FAFSA form, you can use FAFSA4caster to estimate the amount of federal student aid you might receive.

What are the deadlines to complete the FAFSA?

The 2018–19 FAFSA form became available on Oct. 1, 2017, while the 2017–18 FAFSA form has been available since Oct. 1, 2016. Each state and college or career school sets its own deadline for the FAFSA. For Federal Student Aid for the 2018–19 year, you can apply between Oct. 1, 2017, and June 30, 2019. The best policy is to get it done early, as some funds are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

5 Tips on how to complete FAFSA

Do not fill out anything that comes with an application fee.

The first F in FAFSA stands for “free”! Do not fill out anything that comes with an application fee. Make sure you’re using the correct website to fill out your forms: fafsa.ed.gov. If the form you’re looking at says you have to pay, you’re in the wrong spot!

Submit your application as soon as possible.

Don't wait! Submit your application as soon as possible. The newest FAFSA form was released on October 1, 2017 for the 2018-19 year. Some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis so turn it in as soon as possible. As you progress through college, you’ll fill out the newest version of the form each year. Older forms will not be accepted; high school juniors, don’t waste your time! However, prior to filling out your first FAFSA, you can use the FAFSA4caster to estimate your eligibility for federal student aid.

Take care in filling out your form.

Don't rush! Take care in filling out your form. Double-check everything you submit to make sure it’s accurate. Mistakes — especially regarding salary information — will generate an inaccurate EFC (Expected Family Contribution), so verify all your numbers in addition to making sure you entered them correctly. Save all related documents for later reference, both in conversations with financial aid officers and future FAFSAs.

Keep track of college deadlines.

Stay organized! Keep track of college deadlines. You won’t be able to begin working on your FAFSA until October 1 of your senior year, but colleges recommend completing it by November 15. You have until May 1 to choose what school you will attend in the fall; submitting your FAFSA earlier rather than later will ensure you receive all the information you need to make a great decision.

Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and ask whatever questions you may have.

College financial aid offices are great resources: This is what they do! Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and ask whatever questions you may have — they’ve heard it all. Everyone has a unique story, and FAFSA is only part of it. Contact a financial aid officer to talk about circumstances that affect your ability to pay that may not show up on your FAFSA. Remember that these college offices are there to help you!

Dive Deeper: Helpful
Financial Aid Resources

7 Common FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid

7 Common FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid

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5 Ways to Secure a Scholarship Early

5 Ways to Secure a Scholarship Early

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4 Overlooked Ways to Pay for College – Without the Help of Loans!

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FAQ’s Regarding Financial Aid

Do I have to be admitted into a college before I can receive financial aid?

You do not need to be admitted to a college before you can apply for financial aid. When filling out the FAFSA, you will be asked to list any schools that should receive your FAFSA results. Make sure you list all the schools to which you are applying. Once accepted to a school, you can begin receiving offers for aid. You can also take advantage of the Net Price calculator (NPC) that all schools are required to provide on their website. In many cases, the NPC can provide you with your estimated award to give you an idea even before filling out the FAFSA.

Can homeschooled students receive some type of financial assistance?

Absolutely! Homeschool students should fill out the FAFSA as well as any and all scholarships and grants for which they qualify.

Is there specific tax information I need to fill out my FAFSA?

You will need your federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.

Do my chances of getting admitted into a college decrease if I apply for financial aid?

No, generally speaking, applying for financial aid will not affect your chances of being admitted to a college. When schools are evaluating applicants they follow one of two policies: “need-blind” or “need-aware”. Schools that follow a “need-blind” policy do not consider your ability to pay in your admissions decision. Schools that follow a “need-aware” policy may, in borderline circumstances, factor your need for financial aid, into the admissions decision. However, this should not deter you from requesting aid if you need it — most agree that it has very little, if any effect on a student’s admission.

Even if I don’t think I qualify for financial aid, should I apply anyway?

Yes, absolutely! Experts agree one of the most common reasons students don’t fill out the FAFSA is because they believe don’t qualify, but this isn’t always the case!

Also, you can’t receive scholarships and grants you don’t apply for, so apply and take a chance!

When do I find out how much money I’ll receive for the school year?

After completing the FAFSA, the office of Federal Student Aid at the U.S. Department of Education will send you a Student Aid Report (SAR), which is a summary of the data you submitted, within three weeks of submitting the FAFSA.

If you applied for admission to a college and have been accepted, and you listed that school on your FAFSA form, the school will calculate your aid and will send you an electronic or paper aid offer. Sometimes this is called an award letter, it will let you know how much aid you’re eligible for at the school. The timing of the aid offer varies from school to school and could be as early as winter (awarding for the fall) or as late as immediately before you start school.

What is the difference between an unsubsidized loan and a subsidized loan?

When a loan is subsidized, it means that the Federal government will pay the interest accrued (accumulated) on the loan while you are in school. If a loan is unsubsidized, it means that the borrower is responsible for paying the interest accrued on the loan, throughout the student’s time in college.

Do I have to apply for financial aid every year?

Yes, you will need to fill out the FAFSA form each year, because your financial situation can change from year to year. You can also continue to apply for grants and scholarships while in college.

More Reading for Your Convenience

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3 Ways You Can Prepare for the FAFSA Right Now

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