College is super expensive and a massive worry for most college-bound teens and their parents. How can we afford to send our children to college? Here are eight tips from the experts on paying for college and not ending up in a world of debt.

1. Fill out the FAFSA

Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. This application opens the doors for many financial aid options, including federal grants and work-study opportunities, even if you don’t expect to receive any federal help.

2. Apply for scholarships and grants

Scholarships and grants are a necessary part of paying for college, and the good thing is that both forms of financial help don’t need paying back, unlike any loans you take out. You can start looking for scholarships well before your senior year in high school. Most scholarships require you to fill out your FAFSA and a separate application form as well. 

Filling out your FAFSA also will help you secure Pell Grants; if you fill out the FAFSA every year while in school, you will receive it if you are eligible for Pell money. ‘In addition to the Pell Grant, the federal government offers several other types of grants as well,’ explains Kathleen Gomez, a writer at Academized and UKWritings. Many individual states also have grant programs, and they are worth looking into.

3. 529 College Savings Plan

Parent income and savings cover the most considerable portion of college tuition and fees, about 44% or $13,072 on average, according to the recent 2020 survey conducted by the annual Sallie May study. College 529 savings plans offer families an opportunity to grow their savings tax-free, providing all the money is spent on educational expenses.

4. Summer Jobs

If you can, work a part-time job during the summer. You might not make a lot of money, but it can help pay for things like going out to the occasional dinner with your friends and help pay for books which are extortionate, even if you can buy them used. Some retail chains, like Chipotle, have tuition reimbursement benefits that you can take advantage of. 

5. Choose an affordable school

We all want to go to an Ivy League school, but sometimes it is not financially practical unless we get a full scholarship. ‘Choosing a school that won’t break your bank is a wise decision,’ says John Tripp, an educator at OXEssays and Essayroo. Sometimes going to a community college or trade school first is a more financially sound choice. If you decide to go to a four-year school, choose one with lots of financial aid options.

6. Student Loans

Many students and families take out federal and private student loans to pay for college. It’s important to know that you should only borrow what you need. Applying federal student loans is more advantageous due to access to income-driven repayment options and loan forgiveness programs. Use private loans as a last resort.

7. Work-study job

The federal work-study program funds part-time college campus jobs for students with financial needs. It offers an excellent opportunity to gain work experience as well as earn money. 

When you get your FAFSA award letter, it will say on it whether you qualify for work-study. It is important to note that you still must find a job, apply for it, and ensure that you will be working the correct number of hours to receive all the work-study money awarded to you.

8. Financial Aid Appeals

The FAFSA award is based not on the previous year’s information but the year before that. So, the 2021 FAFSA awards will be based on 2019’s financial information. If you have had a drastic change in your financial circumstances due to the pandemic, it won’t be reflected in your FAFSA. An appeal of financial assistance will allow you to update any significant changes in your financial circumstances. 

Applying for college is stressful. Finding the money to afford to go to school adds even more stress. These eight tips will help you successfully navigate applying for financial student aid.