Financing a college education

Getting ready for college in middle school

Nathan DunganMany students and families believe that college is not for them because of cost. That’s a shame, because there are many sources of financial aid available to families that can make college affordable.

Private colleges' prices are generally higher than public institutions, but they give a larger amount of financial aid. At Minnesota’s Private Colleges, families usually end up paying about half the listed tuition price. So keep your options open!

Start saving today

It’s never too early to start saving for a college education. Saving even small amounts of money can make a big difference in the long run. (View a 1-minute video from the Paying for College series.)

Almost everyone gets something

  • Most private college students will receive some sort of financial aid. An essential first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that determines what forms of federal and state financial aid a family is eligible for. Students fill it out as high school seniors after January 1 (if they are attending college the following fall). It requires up-to-date income information from a parent or family’s tax forms. To receive aid, the student must be a U.S. citizen and have a Social Security Number. A student must also have a U.S. high school diploma, a GED or the equivalent. Males between the ages of 18 and 25 must also have registered for Selective Service.
  • Colleges send a financial aid award letter out in the spring to accepted students. The letter will take FAFSA information into account and add any institutional (college or university-based) scholarships or grants the student is eligible for to the total award. The student then accepts the letter of the college they would like to attend by May 1.
  • And when you are more likely to graduate in four years — that's another kind of savings to consider too.

Kinds of financial aid

Financial aid comes from federal and state governments, institutions and private sources. The main sources are:

  • Grants — usually need-based, with need determined when students fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA). Examples include the Federal Pell Grant and Minnesota State Grant. Grants do not have to be paid back.
  • Scholarships — awarded based on merit and/or need and may awarded according to some criteria such as academic or athletic achievement, cultural or religious background, service, etc. Scholarships do not have to be paid back.
  • Loans — money a student receives to put toward tuition and other costs that must be paid back with interest.)  
  • Work-study positions — jobs, often on campus, that help a student earn money to put toward tuition and other costs.