Paying for College

Although college may seem expensive, financial aid can help you pay tuition, books, supplies and other costs. In some cases, students can attend college for free. Talk to your child’s school counselor about free money available that can help your child pay for college.

Financial Aid Awareness Month 2018

Families, did you know? November 2018 is Financial Aid Awareness Month. Schools will offer extra resources and attention to seniors completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Talk to your child’s school counselor to get help with completing the FAFSA. You can also attend a FAFSA completion event near you.

Understanding College Costs

Money concerns should not stop you and your child from exploring all options—but it is important to understand how much college costs. The biggest college expense is usually “tuition” the price colleges charge for classes. There are four other categories of expenses included in the total cost of attendance: Room and Board (housing and meals); Books and Supplies; Personal Expenses; and Transportation. Visit College Score Card to estimate the price for a college.

Types of Financial Aid

Help paying for college is usually called “financial aid.” The most important thing you can do to get financial aid is complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA. There is no fee to complete the FAFSA.

Understanding School Loans

Before taking out a loan, students should apply for grants and scholarships. A loan is an amount of money that you borrow to pay for college and must pay back later with extra money called “interest rate”. Visit the U.S. government's Student Aid website to review the different loans available and learn about how to be a responsible borrower.

  • Loans can help your family to pay for college, but you have to be a responsible borrower. Before you sign for any loan, make sure you ask questions, find out when your family needs to start paying the money back, how much interest you will have to pay, and choose the loans with the lowest interest rate.
  • Ask for help if you do not understand the loan documents and make sure you understand the rules about paying back the loan. You want the interest to start adding up after your child graduates from college and can earn money to pay it back.
  • There are different kinds of loans for students and for parents. The Federal Direct Subsidized loan and Perkins loan are student loans and have lower interest rates. Students do not have to start paying these loans back until after they graduate from college. However, students do have to start paying if they quit school.
  • Loans for parents have higher interest rates than loans for students. Also, the interest rates usually start adding up right away, not after your child graduates from college.
  • Undocumented students cannot apply for any of these loans. Talk to your school counselor about ways to pay for college.
  • Many families have lost a lot of money to colleges called “for profit” or “proprietary” schools and they are often in the news (U.S. News website). Before your child applies to a for-profit college, some examples are these schools selected by, speak to your school counselor and find out if it is the best choice for your child. Also, ask the Admissions Office at each college:
    • What percentage of your students graduate with a degree?
    • How many students have trouble paying back their loans after they graduate?

Tips to Help Pay for College

Families of Elementary and Middle School Students

  • It is never too early to save money for college! Save money in a special savings account for college. New York State has a savings program called 529 Accounts ) to help families save money for college. With a 529 savings account, the money adds up over time and you pay less money on your taxes each year you add money to the account.
  • New York City provides free services to help families manage their money and file their taxes. You can get help with planning your family budget, opening a free or low-cost bank account, and opening a 529 account to save money for college.

Families of High School Students

Encourage your child to begin finding and applying to scholarships the year before they apply to colleges--usually this is their Junior year of high school. Ask your child’s school for help finding scholarships.

During the year your child is applying to college:

  1. Start working on the the FAFSA as soon as possible. Beginning October 1, you and your child can complete the 2018-2019 FAFSA using your 2016 tax returns.
  2. Create your FSA IDs a couple of days before completing your child’s FAFSA. Encourage your child to create a FSA ID too. FSA IDs are personal usernames and passwords used as a legal signature on the FAFSA. Use the FAFSA Guide to help your family complete the FAFSA, translations are available.
  3. Gather the important documents needed to complete the FAFSA. Visit the US Department of Education website to find out the documents you need to complete the Financial Aid Forms. You can also attend a College Goal NY event to get free professional help to complete FAFSA.
  4. Proofread before submitting the forms. Carefully read all questions, and pay attention to details when entering your information on your child’s financial aid forms. Double-check Social Security Numbers, Dates of Birth, and Names. Mistakes can delay the FAFSA process. 
  5. At the end of the FAFSA, be sure to click on the link that says “Optional Feature”. This link will help your child apply for the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). TAP helps New York students pay tuition in New York State colleges. Because TAP is a grant, your child will not have to it back. An annual TAP award can be up to $5,165.
  6. Complete additional forms, if needed. Some private colleges require additional financial forms like the CSS profile. Visit for list of colleges that require CSS in addition to FAFSA and TAP forms.

My child filled out the financial aid forms. What comes next?

Congratulations on completing the important forms! Don't forget to do these things too:

Make sure the forms have been received

Your child should follow up each of the colleges applied to make sure they received all required financial aid forms.

Help your child apply to scholarships

A big scholarship can make the most expensive school affordable.

Many colleges give their own scholarships to help families pay for school. Colleges will sometimes ask your family to fill out another form. Other groups that offer scholarships include:

  • charities
  • big businesses
  • unions
  • religious groups

These private scholarships usually require students to complete an application, write an essay, and send recommendation letters. 

Mark Your Calendar to Check the Mail

Colleges usually inform students about their acceptance between January and April. The exact dates depend on when the application was submitted, and if it was early action, early decision, or regular decision.

Back to Top