Pay for College

Step 1 – Apply for Admission and Institutional Scholarships

Apply for Admission

Admission drives everything. If you haven’t completed the admission process, the college doesn’t know you exist, much less than you might need financial aid, and the state and federal governments don’t know you are planning to go to college.

So, before you do anything else, finish the admission process.

Complete the Admission Process

Apply for Institutional Scholarships

Most institutional aid is awarded through the admission process – there is not a separate application. So, check the college’s admissions office webpage for specific information about available aid.

Admissions Offices

Some colleges or universities do require a separate application for competitive scholarships. Be aware that such scholarship application deadlines usually come early in the year.

There are three main kinds of institutional aid:

  • Academic – Academic scholarships are usually based on high school grades, test scores, or a combination of both. Students are generally required to maintain a certain GPA to keep academic scholarships.
  • Athletic/Activity – Athletic/Activity scholarships are based on performance in sports or extracurricular activities (debate, etc.). These scholarships may be discontinued if the student stops playing the sport or participating in the activity.
  • Foundation – Foundation scholarships are often based on criteria specified by the donor who established the scholarship. Such criteria may include gender, ethnicity/national origin, religion, anticipated major, county/town of residence, etc.

Community College Tuition Guarantee Programs

The Community College Tuition Guarantee Program is coordinated with federal aid, state aid, and scholarship funds to assure that certain county residents’ tuition will be paid at participating community college for four consecutive, regular semesters. Your participation in this program is contingent upon your compliance with a few requirements and availability of program funds. Click here for a list of Community Colleges Programs.

Step 2 – Apply for Federal Aid

Complete the FAFSA! –

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA website is updated regularly and contains everything you need to know about the application process and the types of aid available. And the online application is WAY easier than the paper version.

Your FAFSA not only makes you eligible for federal financial aid, but also some state aid and even scholarships offered by your college. So, you should DEFINITELY apply, even if you think you might not qualify!

When to Submit

Submit the FAFSA any time after January 1 of your senior year in high school, but don’t wait too long. Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, and some deadlines start passing in March.

You’ll Need Lots of Documents 

You’ll need your:

  • Social security number
  • Driver’s license number
  • Unless you’re legally independent, your parents’ financial info (tax returns, etc.)

This means you’ll need your parents to file their taxes early in the year! If you file your taxes electronically at least a couple of weeks before you complete the FAFSA, you can use the FAFSA IRS Data Retrieval tool that allows you to retrieve your tax data from the IRS and import it directly into your FAFSA. This makes the FAFSA that much easier.

Expected Family Contribution

After completing the FAFSA, you will receive an estimate of what your family is expected to spend on college before factoring in any financial aid. This estimate is your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the foundation for your entire financial aid award package. Your results will also go to the federal government, your state government, and the schools you’ve applied to.

Dependent vs. Independent

A Dependent Student is a student who does not meet any of the criteria for an independent student. An Independent Student is one of the following:

  • at least 24 years old
  • married
  • a graduate or professional student
  • a veteran or a member of the armed forces
  • an orphan or ward of the court
  • or someone with legal dependents (for whom they are financially responsible) other than a spouse

Step 3 – Apply for State Aid

Each year, the State Legislature sets aside about $30 million that Mississippi students can use to go to college.

Link to SFA Main Page


Step 4 – Apply for Other Scholarships

Other scholarships are available through countless private foundations, businesses, organizations, clubs, religious groups, and individuals. The best way to find private or foundation scholarships is through the Internet; however, be aware of scholarship scams!

There are literally billions in scholarships, other financial aid and internships out there waiting to be found.  The trick to getting all that you can for college is to start looking early and often,  you never know where or when an opportunity might open up.

The first place to look is your local library, chamber of commerce and local businesses.   These places have some local scholarships or aid that is geared specifically to college-bound students in the immediate area. Second is your parent’s workplace, they may have scholarships for children of employees.  Finally, the third is the internet, which takes time and effort to troll through and finds matches to your information and interest.   Here are the top scholarship search engines according to US News & World Report:

  3. College GreenLight
  6. National Negro College Fund
  7. Unigo
  8. Merit Aid
  9. College Scholarships
  10. Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Scholarships

Local Scholarships

Step 5 – Determine Your Bottom Line

You know the cost of tuition. But what is college really going to cost you? Here are some tools to help you determine your bottom line.

Use the FAFSA4caster

FAFSA4caster will help you understand your options for paying for college.

All you do is provide some basic information and they will estimate your eligibility for federal student aid. Your estimate will be shown in the “College Cost Worksheet” where you can also provide estimated amounts of other student aid and savings that can go towards your college education.

Understanding Cost of Attendance

Your financial aid package, outlined in your award letter, will be based on the college’s Cost of Attendance (COA) and your personal Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

The COA is the total amount it will cost a student to go to school – usually expressed as a yearly figure. It’s determined using rules established by law.

The COA includes:

  • tuition and fees
  • on-campus room and board (or a housing and food allowance for off-campus students)
  • allowances for books, supplies, transportation, loan fees, and, if applicable, dependent care
  • costs related to a disability
  • miscellaneous expenses, including an allowance for the rental or purchase of a personal computer.

Keep in mind that the COA is an estimated cost. Some elements of the COA may not be as high for all students. You can lower your actual cost of attendance by doing everything you can to save on travel expenses, textbooks, and other miscellaneous costs associated with going to college.

Calculate your cost of college attendance with our Cost of College Calculators.

Tips for saving on Textbooks:

1)     When possible, buy books through online discount sites. There are lots of them. Some work as auction sites (kind of like eBay). Others do direct sales. Others are trade sites. You can get books for half the cost at times, but buyer beware!

  • Professors often require specific editions, so make sure you are buying the right book. Use the ISBN number if you have it.
  • Also, you need to order books early, as they often take a while to ship. You don’t want to miss the first few assignments, because you don’t have a book.

2)     Take advantage of e-books if you can. Sometimes professors only require you to read one or two chapters of a book. If the book is available as an e-book, you may be able to purchase only the chapter you need for much less than the entire book.

3)     Take care of your books and sell them back to the bookstore. You won’t recoup all your cost, but you’ll make back a little.

4)     Take advantage of textbook exchanges through the college.

Financial Aid Award Letter

Once you’ve been admitted to college and you’ve applied for financial aid, you will receive an Award Letter from the college. The Award Letter will explain how much and what types of aid you’ve qualified for. It will list the following:

  • Gift aid (money that you don’t have to repay, such as grants and scholarships)
  • Loans (money that must be repaid)
  • Work-study positions you may qualify for

Step 6 – Compare Financial Aid Award Packages

Once you’ve determined your bottom line at each institution you have applied to, evaluate and compare the financial aid packages outlined in your award letters.

Look for Gift Aid

In general, the more gift aid a package has, the better the package. Be sure to look at percentages, not whole numbers. What percentage of the total aid package comes from scholarships and grants that do NOT have to be repaid? What percentage comes from loans that DO have to be repaid?

What about Loans?

As part of this process, you may need to look at different student loan options. Despite what you may have heard, student loans are not all bad. After all, you are investing in your own future! But some loans are better than others. Starting with the most desirable loans, your batting order should be:

  1. Federal Perkins
  2. Federal subsidized Stafford
  3. Federal unsubsidized Stafford
  4. Federal parent PLUS
  5. Private (Alternative) (interest rates vary) – These should be taken out only as a last resort since the interest rates and repayment options are typically not as good. Plus, private loans usually require a good or excellent credit rating and a cosigner.

The College Board offers more information about how to compare your aid awards and a Student Loan Comparison Calculator to help you figure out how much a loan really costs you in the long run.

Federal Student Loans

Private Student Loans

You will not have to start repaying your federal student loans until you graduate, leave school, or change your enrollment status to less than half-time. Many private student loans require payments while you are still in school. 
The interest rate is fixed and is often lower than private loans—and much lower than some credit card interest rates. View the current interest rates on federal student loans. Private student loans can have variable interest rates, some greater than 18%. A variable rate may substantially increase the total amount you repay.
Undergraduate students with financial need will likely qualify for a subsidized loan where the government pays the interest while you are in school on at least a half-time basis. Private student loans are not subsidized. No one pays the interest on your loan but you. 
You don’t need to get a credit check for most federal student loans (except for PLUS loans). Federal student loans can help you establish a good credit record. Private student loans may require an established credit record. The cost of a private student loan will depend on your credit score and other factors.
You won’t need a cosigner to get a federal student loan in most cases. You may need a cosigner. 
Interest may be tax deductible. Interest may not be tax deductible.
Loans can be consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan.  Learn about your consolidation options. Private student loans cannot be consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan. 
If you are having trouble repaying your loan, you may be able to temporarily postpone or lower your payments. Private student loans may not offer forbearance or deferment options.
There are several repayment plans, including an option to tie your monthly payment to your income. You should check with your lender to find out about your repayment options.
There is no prepayment penalty fee. You need to make sure there are no prepayment penalty fees.
You may be eligible to have some portion of your loans forgiven if you work in public service. Learn about our loan forgiveness programs. It is unlikely that your lender will offer a loan forgiveness program.
Free help is available at 1-800-4-FED-AID and on our websites. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s private student loan ombudsman may be able to assist you if you have concerns about your private student loan.

This information is provided by the Federal Student Aid office of the U.S. Department of Education

Step 7 – Accept Your Financial Aid Award Package

Once you choose the college and financial aid package that works for you and your family, you will need to accept the aid package by signing some paperwork. The college’s financial aid office will guide you through this.

If your financial aid package includes a student loan (and most do!), you will have to sign a promissory note (or contract) that obligates you to repay the loan at some point in the future. Many promissory notes are available online for electronic signature.

Legal Responsibilities of Financial Aid Recipients

Students receiving federal student aid have certain legal responsibilities. Student responsibilities include the following:

    • The student must complete all application forms accurately and submit them on time to the appropriate location.
    • The student must provide the correct information. The intentional misreporting of information on financial aid application forms is a violation of the law and is considered a criminal offense which could result in indictment under the U.S. Criminal Code.
    • The student must return all additional documentation, verification, corrections, and/or new information requested by either the Financial Aid Office or the agency to which an application was submitted.
    • The student must report to the Financial Aid Office any additional financial resources received by him/her during the period of his/her financial aid award.
    • The student is responsible for reading and understanding all forms that he/she is asked to sign and for keeping copies of the forms.
    • The student must accept responsibility for all agreements that he/she signs.
    • The student must perform the work that he/she has agreed upon in accepting College Work-Study or regular student employment.
    • The student must be aware of and comply with the deadlines for application or reapplication for aid.
    • The student should be aware of the school’s refund policy.
    • All schools must provide information to prospective students about the school’s programs and performance. The student should consider this information carefully before deciding to attend school.
    • If the student receives a loan, he/she must notify the lender if any of the following occurs before the loan is repaid:

1) Graduation
2) Withdrawal from school or less than half-time enrollment
3) Change of address
4) Name change
5) Transfer to other school(s)
6) If the student has received a Federal Perkins Loan or Federal Direct Loan prior to receiving his/her first disbursement of loan funds at your new school. NOTE: Federal Perkins Loan recipients must complete entrance loan counseling each year.

  • The student must also attend an exit interview if enrollment drops below 6 credit hours; or if he/she graduates, transfers to another school, or fails to enroll for any long semester.
  • The student must repay any loan received at your new school, plus accrued interest, in accordance with the repayment schedule.
  • In borrowing money, the student assumes the responsibility for repaying the loan. If circumstances arise that make it difficult to meet this responsibility, he/she should contact the lender.

The student must notify the lender of any occurrence which may affect eligibility for a deferment of repayment.