5. Financial Aid Overview
Paying for college starts at home—with you and your family. There are options to help students and families afford an education. These options are called “financial aid” and help make college a reality for millions of students each year. Even families that are able to save for college often need help paying the full cost of college.
Money to pay for college comes from many different sources, such as 529 college savings plans, investments, financial aid, and current student and parent earnings. Financially preparing for college can start at different times for different families. Some families start saving for college when their children are babies and others start talking about college financing as it gets closer to time to pay for college. Don’t worry; it’s never too early or too late to figure out how to pay for college.
Making the most of your financial aid
Financial aid may come from the federal or state government, your college or from private businesses. We’ve got a few tips for you to get your search started:
- Look for “gift aid” first—it’s always better if you don’t have to pay it back!
- Ask for help—your school's financial aid office and your family financial planner can both provide helpful advice.
- Always use federal loans before private loans or credit cards—better rates and benefits for you.
- Only borrow what you really need— just because more money is offered, doesn’t mean you should take it.
Taking the first step
Most undergraduate students receive some kind of financial aid. Financial aid is available for full-time and part-time students. If you are planning to go to college in the fall, you should apply for financial aid in January or early February of the same year. You don't need to wait until you've decided where you're going to school. Schools can run out of financial aid and much is given on a first-come, first-served basis to students who submit their application by the college's financial aid priority deadline (many priority deadlines are in early March – check our calendar or ask your college). So the earlier you apply the better!
The application for financial aid is called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. Regardless of income level, everyone should complete the FAFSA (we’ll talk more about the FAFSA later in this unit). Remember to also check with your college for any additional financial aid forms they may require.
Getting close to college? Here’s what you need to do.
- Talk with family about how to pay for college.
- Learn more about how to pay for college at free workshops and seminars - visit the Education Cents Events Calendar to find out when we’ll be in your area.
- Sign up for the College Opportunity Fund (COF) at www.collegeincolorado.org.
Beginning a year before college:
- Search for and apply for scholarships.
- Apply to schools: watch for admissions, housing and financial aid deadlines!
- Complete the FAFSA and other college financial aid requirements as soon after January 1st as possible.