Affording College

How to Pay for College

Figuring out how to pay for college can be quite a challenge for students and families. Fortunately, there are many avenues you can explore to find financial support to help pay for the cost of tuition.  The financial aid package you and your family put together could include a mix of Pell Grant (federal aid), the Cal Grant (state aid), institutional grant aid, out-of-pocket expenses, and student loans (federal and private). As the name implies, there is no cost to apply.

To get answers to most-asked questions, check out our Financial Aid Q&A. Also, visit websites of the colleges you are interested in and get specific information on their deadlines and the financial aid they provide. Our College Guide lists each admission office contact, website, and other useful information.

Also, check out these links that tell you more about financial aid.

Financial Aid Links:

American Student Assistance

California Student Aid Commission

CSS PROFILE

FAFSA

Federal Student Aid

FinAid!

Financial Aid:  Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply for financial aid?
Federal and state financial aid is determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form is available online at www.fafsa.ed.gov or from your guidance counselor or college financial aid officer.

When are financial aid applications due?
The FAFSA deadline falls between January and March each year. The FAFSA must be completed by March 2 for Cal Grant program. If you do nothing else to prepare to pay for college, get your financial aid forms in early! The money available for student aid is limited. Also note that financial aid forms must be filed annually, and returning students may have different form requirements from first-year students.

The California Student Aid Commission has a Senior Financial Aid Checklist available.

What documentation do I need to submit to support my application?
Depending on the institution, students may need to submit a variety of additional documentation. Examples include tax forms, an institutional aid application, a noncustodial parent statement, etc.

How do schools determine how much financial aid to award?
Many factors go into determining how much aid you will receive each year. These factors, taken from the FAFSA, and other forms you may fill out, may include the number of family members you have, how many family members are also in college, your summer earnings, your family’s earnings, and your family’s debt.

Using this information, the financial aid office will determine how much of the educational costs you and your family can cover, and then try to give you enough aid to make up the difference between those costs and your family’s expected contribution.

How do I figure out how much I will have to pay out of pocket for a particular school?
All colleges and universities are federally mandated to host a net price calculator on their websites. This calculator allows parents and students to input information similar to that required for the FAFSA and get a better sense of what type of aid resources colleges and universities will offer them. Note that this process creates an estimate of your net costs. Your actual financial aid package may differ.

How much money should I be prepared to borrow to pay for college?
Only you and your family can answer this question, but here are a few tips:

  • Start by considering federal student loans; they are guaranteed with a fixed interest rate.

  • Do not borrow more than you need.

  • Read the fine print and pay attention to fees, terms, and conditions. Look for a lender that is transparent about its programs.

How and when will I be notified that I am eligible for financial aid?
Once your financial aid file is complete and your application has been reviewed, you will receive an award letter from the institutions to which you have applied. Letters or emails are generally sent out between February and April.