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Pay for College

Finding a great college is easy—paying for college is the tricky part. Stay ahead of the game with planning tips for every age level.

  • Estimate expenses with our college cost calculator
  • Learn about student aid and money management
  • Gain tax advantages with the right savings plan

Pre and Elementary


Middle School


Grades 9–10


  • Focus on getting the highest grades you can. Good grades will greatly increase your chances of getting an academic scholarship, which can be worth thousands of dollars. Learn more about scholarships and how to qualify.
  • Do you already have a career in mind? Scholarships, aid and loan forgiveness programs are available based on certain college majors, especially those in education, healthcare, science, technology and math. Learn more about scholarships based on your major or area of interest.

Grade 11


  • Learn the differences between grants, loans, work-study and scholarships.
  • Get a brief overview of financial aid from Do You Need Money for College—Federal Student Aid at a Glance.
  • Use the US Department of Labor’s scholarship search to find scholarships for which you might want to apply. Some deadlines fall as early as the summer between 11th and 12th grades, so prepare now to submit applications soon.
  • Contact colleges to request information and applications for admission. Ask about financial aid, admission requirements and deadlines.
  • Use the FAFSA4caster financial aid estimator, and compare the results to the actual costs at the colleges to which you will apply.


  • Take a look at your financial situation, and be sure you’re on the right track to help pay for college.
  • Help your child develop independence by encouraging him or her to take responsibility for balancing homework with any other activities or a part-time job.
  • Attend college fairs, college nights and financial aid nights with your child, but don’t take over the conversation with the college representatives. Just listen, and let your child do the talking.
  • Ask your employer whether scholarships are available for employees’ children.
  • Get in-depth information on the federal student aid programs.
  • Learn about student and parent loans in Your Federal Student Loans: Learn the Basics and Manage Your Debt.

Grade 12



  • Encourage your parent(s) to complete income tax forms early. If this has not yet been done, you can provide estimated information on your federal student aid application, but remember to make any necessary changes later.
  • As soon as possible after Jan. 1, complete and submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) along with any other financial aid applications your school(s) of choice may require. You should submit your FAFSA by the earliest financial aid deadline of the schools to which you are applying, usually by early February.
  • After you submit the FAFSA, you should receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) within three days to three weeks. Quickly make any necessary corrections and submit them to the FAFSA processor.


  • If you have a college savings account such as a 529 or Coverdell, review the account’s provisions for withdrawing and using the funds.
  • Review your college acceptances and compare the colleges’ financial aid offers.
  • Contact a school’s financial aid office if you have questions about the aid that school has offered you. In fact, getting to know your financial aid staff early is a good idea no matter what—they can tell you about deadlines, other aid for which you might wish to apply, and important paperwork you might need to submit.
  • When you decide which school you want to attend, notify that school of your commitment and submit any required financial deposit. Many schools require this notification and deposit by May 1.
  • Refer to Funding Your Education: The Guide to Federal Student Aid for information about financial aid as you work through the FAFSA process.
  • Make informed decisions about student loans; the following resources are important at this point:


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