Private colleges can be a lot more affordable than you may think, but it helps to plan ahead. Here are some steps to consider.

1. Start saving for college

The sooner you start saving the better. But know that it's never too late to begin. One way to save money is through what’s called a 529 plan, which provides tax savings while you make contributions and when you use the money to pay for college. There are many 529 plans available; Minnesota offers its own College Savings Plan that can be opened for a child of any age.

2. Keep all options open

Minnesota private colleges offer an array of choices. One of them may be a great fit for you or your student — and affordable. Thanks to financial aid, the average amount that families pay for tuition is considerably less than the posted price. Consider these points:

  • After grants and scholarships the average amount that first-year students actually pay for tuition is cut by 66 percent compared to listed tuition.
    • The average net tuition for first-year students is $14,236 because first-year students receive an average of $25,052 in institutional, state and federal grants.
    • For first-year students from families with incomes below $50,000, average grants cover 91 percent of tuition. The average net tuition for these students after institutional, federal and state grants is $3,500. These students receive an average of $35,900 in grants.
  • 96 percent of first-year students at our colleges receive grants and scholarships — financial aid that never has to be paid back.
  • Gain a sense of what can be possible for your family by taking a few minutes to get an early estimate of what kind of aid your student could be offered at a private college. You can find background and links to their net price calculators.

3. Find out more 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. You’ll also find help in the financial aid and admission sections of their websites.
  • 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. You’ll find many private scholarship opportunities on these sites:

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). It is used to determine eligibility for institutional need-based grants, Federal Pell Grant awards and Minnesota State Grant awards. Completing the FAFSA is also required for students and families interested in federal loans or work study.

The application can be completed starting in October of a high school student’s senior year in high school. Completing the FAFSA can take some time and requires several pieces of information, including up-to-date financial information from a parent or a family’s tax forms from the previous year. The federal government helps sum up the process with a helpful graphic  and provides answers on what to expect.

For families in Minnesota seeking more support, check out the FAFSA completion events and other resources through Minnesota Goes to College, a collaboration that Minnesota private colleges support.

Each college has a financial aid application deadline, but you have plenty of time after the FAFSA opens up to fill it out. After the FAFSA is submitted, colleges and universities will use this information to prepare a financial aid offer that combines grants and scholarships from federal, state, school and institutional sources with loans and student employment.

And remember, if you’re looking for an earlier estimate, families can use colleges’ net price calculators.

6. Compare financial aid offers

Colleges send out financial aid award offers to applicants. 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.)