Steps to paying for college
Private colleges can be a lot more affordable than you may think, but it helps to plan ahead. Here are some steps you can take now.
1. Start saving for college
The sooner you begin saving the better, but it's never too late to begin. Minnesota has a College Savings Plan that can be opened for a child of any age. Withdrawals from the plan for qualified education expenses are free from federal or state income tax.
2. Keep all options open
Minnesota's Private Colleges offer an array of choices. One of them may be a great fit for you or your student — and affordable. Consider these points:
- Thanks to financial aid, the average amount that families pay for tuition is considerably less than the posted price — about half.
- The most recent figure for average amount our colleges award a year in scholarships and grants was $22,336. With tuition and fees that year averaging $37,063, the typical family had 60% of its tuition costs covered by scholarships and grants.
- For 94% of first-year students at our colleges, tuition bills are reduced by grants and scholarships (financial aid that never has to be paid back).
3. Find out about financial aid at colleges of interest
- Attend a financial aid night at your child's high school.
- Financial aid offices at our institutions want to help. Don't hesitate to contact them to find out what type of scholarships or other aid are available.
- Many of our colleges require a financial aid application, so make note of the deadlines.
4. Search for private scholarships
Many different types of independent scholarships are awarded according to some criteria such as academic or athletic achievement, cultural or religious background, service, etc. The following websites list resources to help you explore private scholarship opportunities:
- Minnesota Office of Higher Education (scroll down to general scholarship resources, Minnesota-specific scholarships, resources for military families or resources for students of color)
- FinAid: the Smartstudent Guide to Financial Aid
Learn how to recognize a predatory financial aid search company.
5. Complete the FAFSA
Students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA) to determine eligibility for need-based aid such as the Federal Pell Grant and Minnesota State Grant. The application should be completed as early as possible in January — as soon as taxes have been filed. Don't assume you won't qualify for aid. To obtain an estimate of eligibility before January, use an online financial aid estimator:
After the FAFSA is submitted, students receive their Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR indicates the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) which is subtracted from the school's Cost of Attendance (COA) to arrive at your financial need: the lower the EFC, the more financial aid will be needed. Colleges and universities will use your need to prepare a financial aid "package" that combines grants and scholarships from federal, state, school and private sources with loans and student employment.
6. Compare financial aid packages
Colleges send out financial aid award letters to applicants, usually in early- to mid-April. Review them for the combination of scholarships, grants, loans and work study awards that are being offered. (The College Board offers a useful comparison tool.) Also see our newsletter story, "Demystifying financial aid offers."
7. Consider value
Cost is important but the college with the lowest out-of-pocket cost may not offer the best fit for you. Take into account the quality of the education and the mix of opportunities you will receive.
- How will your choice help you start your career and advance it later?
- How likely are you to graduate in four years? (It's very likely if you attend a Minnesota private college or university.) Graduating on time will help you save money and start working earlier.