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Everything You Need To Know About Paying For College

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This guest post is written by Emma Eggleston from the blog, Nineteen Magazine.

Paying for college is expensive. Each year millions of students go into thousands of dollars in debt just to get a degree. But this doesn’t have to be you. 

There are lots of different ways students can get free money to pay for college. The three major ones are financial aid, scholarships, and grants. There is a big misconception that they are all the same, but there are distinct differences between them. 

Let’s talk about what these types of paying for college are and how you can earn them.

Woman covering her face with a white book because she is stressed out about paying for college
Image by Siora Photography

Financial aid is used to describe funds that are given to students who come from less advantaged families and otherwise would not be able to afford to attend university. In the United States, each college/university will have a financial aid office where you can find out more what kind of financial aid you might be eligible for. 

The important thing for U.S. students to remember is that in order to receive federal financial aid you must fill out the FAFSA form on time each year. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid will ask you questions about your family’s annual income, number of persons in your family, and investments to determine how much your family should be able to contribute to your college education in the form of a ‘family contribution number’. 

After you have completed your FAFSA you must send it to your institution and they will then offer you a Financial Scholarships aid package based on your family contribution amount, how much money they have to give away, and other factors specific to that institution. Not every school will offer you the same amount of financial aid. Make sure to apply to at least a few schools to compare packages.

Note that financial aid can come in the form of direct unsubsidized loans, direct subsidized loans, work-study jobs, and grants.

To learn more about financial aid visit The U.S. Department of Education’s website on Federal Student Aid or get in contact with the financial aid department at your institution.

Group of college freshmen walking toward college


Another way of paying for college is grants. Grants are considered gift aid which means they do not have to be repaid. An institution may offer you a grant as a part of your financial aid package or you may have to apply for a grant separately. 

Grants will usually be based partially on your financial need and merit. If your school does not offer you a grant, don’t worry there are many third-party grant programs you can apply to. 

Click here to learn more about federal and state grants you may be eligible for. Visit your college’s financial aid, grants, or scholarships webpage to find opportunities to apply for. 

Lastly, check out or Fastweb to search for grants from nonprofits and other organizations.


Like grants, a free way of paying for college is scholarship. Scholarships are considered gift aid so they do not have to be repaid. (Yay, free money!) Scholarships can be based on pretty much anything. Athletic scholarships and academic scholarships are likely the two most common, but there are scholarships for everything from hair color to birth place.

Scholarships typically require an application essay and resume, but not all. More sought-after scholarships may have more involved applications that will require letters of recommendation. 

Visit your institution’s web page on scholarships to find and apply for scholarships you may be eligible., Fastweb, Unigo, and Niche are great websites where you can search for scholarships based on keywords or use filters to find the right scholarships for you.

Scholarships for International Students

4 students studying next to one another to look for scholarship to paying for college

U.S. students who wish to study abroad may have the opportunity to use federal financial aid funds to attend university in another country. You can read more about this on the Aid For International Study page on There are certain stipulations that must be met, but in most usual cases, students who receive federal financial aid are able to use it to paying for college toward study abroad terms.

There are many opportunities for students across to earn scholarships towards international study. If you visit the website, International Student, you can use their scholarship search to find scholarships specifically for international students. 

I would also recommend taking a look at the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers’ Study Abroad Scholarships and Grants List. This resource will help you get started in your search for scholarships and grants for study abroad from the United States.

When you find out how much it costs to attend college, you may be discouraged, but don’t give up hope. If you seek out and apply for the financial aid, grants, and scholarships, the price of college will become less scary. Good luck in your search for opportunities and remember if you really want to get your degree, there are ways you can afford to pay for college if you work for it.

Author Bio

Emma Eggleston writes about college life, pop culture, and more on her blog Nineteen Magazine

You can connect with her on Pinterest and Facebook.

Emma Eggleston, the author of the guest post

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