How to Pay for College

How to Pay for College: Tips and Advice

With the price of higher education rising much faster than inflation, many students and families find themselves struggling to pay for college, or looking for ways to reduce or offset the costs.

This series is designed to help, with expert advice and creative ways for meeting this challenge.

Check back soon for more information on topics related to paying for college. In the coming months, we’ll be looking at financial aid, scholarships and grants, creative ways to pay, and more.

U.S. Government (Federal) Aid

The United States government offers a number of financial aid programs including grants, loans, education vouchers, tax benefits, and work-study programs.

Federal student aid covers such expenses as tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation. Aid also can help pay for other related expenses, such as a computer and dependent care.

Thousands of schools across the country participate in the federal student aid programs; ask the schools you’re interested in whether they do!

These students filled out the FAFSA and they want you to do the same. 

Apply for Federal Aid through FAFSA

To apply for federal student aid, you need to complete the FAFSA® (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The new FAFSA form was posted on Oct. 1, 2016.

Here are some FAFSA basics to get you ready:

Changes to the 2017-2018 FAFSA

  • The new FAFSA form is easier and faster to fill out than ever.
  • As of Oct. 1, students can file for aid (a full three months earlier than previously allowed.)
  • For the first time, applicants can use prior-prior year tax information when reporting personal and family income. (Previously, the FAFSA used the previous year’s tax data.)

The New "Prior-Prior" Policy Makes for Easier FAFSA Filing

Thanks to the new Prior-Prior Year policy, beginning with the 2017-2018 academic year, students no longer need to wait until January to begin the Free Application for Federal Student Aid process.

That’s because they’ll be able to file the FAFSA using tax information from two years prior.

State Aid

Even if you're not eligible for federal aid, you might be eligible for financial aid from your state.

Almost every state education agency has at least one grant or scholarship available to residents, and many have a long list of student aid programs. Eligibility is usually restricted to state residents attending a college in-state, but that's not always the case.

Scholarships and Grants

There's scholarship money out there for just about every student — regardless of your interests or GPA.

Don't overlook money that might be available from sources like churches, employers or community groups. Use this search to explore local and national scholarships you may be eligible for that can help you pay for college.

More Resources for Finding Scholarships and Grants

  • The financial aid office at a college or vocational school

  • A high school or TRIO counselor

  • Federal agencies

  • Your state grant agency

  • Your library’s reference section

  • Foundations, religious or community organizations, local businesses, or civic groups

  • Organizations (including professional associations) related to your field of interest

  • Ethnicity-based organizations

  • Your employer or your parents’ employers

College, University, or Vocational School Financial Aid

Many colleges offer financial aid from their own funds.

Your college or university financial aid office will use the information from your FAFSA to determine your eligibility for its own financial aid programs. 

Ask your financial aid office about what kind of aid they offer, whether you need to fill out any forms besides the FAFSA, and what the deadlines are.

Scholarships at Georgia Tech

Scholarship awards are made on an annual basis and do not require repayment. Academic excellence, financial need, and major of study are the primary criteria used for selecting recipients. 

To be considered for scholarships awarded by the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid, you must complete a financial aid application (FAFSA) and the Georgia Tech Application for Scholarships and Financial Aid each year.

Grants at Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech offers grants to undergraduates who have not previously received a bachelor's degree are eligible.

Grants are awarded to those who exhibit exceptional financial need and apply for aid by the Priority filing date of Jan. 31, 2017. 

G. Wayne Clough Georgia Tech Promise Program

Tech Promise is available to dependent Georgia residents pursuing their first undergraduate degree at Georgia Tech who meet the eligibility requirements, and whose families have an annual income of less than $33,300.

Awards from Tech Promise will be combined with other scholarships, grants, and a Federal Work Study job opportunity to meet the student's financial need associated with the cost of full-time resident tuition, mandatory fees, an allowance for books, standard housing, personal expenses, and meal plan.


Fellowships provide financial support to graduate students to pursue their studies without the requirement of teaching or research responsibilities. 

Portable graduate fellowships can be applied to the institution of higher education of the student’s choice. 

Many graduate departments offer fellowships to Georgia Tech graduate students. You must be nominated for these awards by your academic department.

Federal Work Study

Federal Work-Study provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses. FWS awards are a form of federal financial aid.

FWS is administered by schools participating in the Federal Work-Study Program. Check with your school's financial aid office to find out if your school participates.

If you’re interested in getting a Federal Work-Study job, make sure you apply for aid early. Schools that participate in the Federal Work-Study Program award funds on a first come, first served basis.

Saving Money by Transferring

Financial aid and family need largely impact ultimate cost, but it’s clear that pursuing schools locally for the first year or two of college is often a viable financial route. 

At Georgia Tech, we often hear from transfer students that will select a college close to home following high school, so that they can work, attend class, and live at home to save money and avoid debt. Increasingly, we are seeing  students who are offered freshman admission making these decisions in order to reduce debt upon graduation.

Is College Worth It?

For some people, the question isn't just, “How to pay for college” but, “Is college worth it?”

That question used to be a no brainer. If anyone even asked such a question, the answer encompassed not just financial return on investment, but a keener intellect, a broadened worldview, a more fulfilling career, and enhanced social prospects. But that was before ...

Georgia Tech's Undergraduate Admissions Director, Rick Clark, likes to ask prospective students first why they want to go to college, and next, to consider where they will best study. I could not agree with more with his approach, and I wanted to share some thoughts about “the why” and, as examples, draw lines to “the how” from my own family’s college experience.

How Do Families Evaluate a College's Return on Investment?

What questions do they need to ask when considering the cost/benefit aspect, and what should students do while in college to ensure they get a good “return on investment”?

Jeff Selingo and Rich DeMillo of Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities encourage looking at fit as well as finances in choosing a college and major. (Video run time: 2:40)

What Are Some Benefits of College That Can't Be Quantified?

What are some of things that students get from college that “money can’t buy”?

Jeff Selingo and Rich DeMillo of Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities stress that experiences, opportunities, and relationships rival earnings potential when it comes to assessing higher ed options. (Video run time: 3:07)

How Much Can You Afford?

To answer the question, "Can I afford this college?" look beyond the bottom line number and consider how you are willing to live during and after college.

“Can I afford it?” is a very personal question rooted in choice. In this blog, you'll find some of the tools and prompts necessary to answer that for yourself. 

How Much Debt is Too Much?

Is there a “sweet spot” for college debt? Not too much, not too little?

Jeff Selingo and Rich DeMillo of Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities discuss what’s manageable vs. the limitations graduates face when burdened with too much student debt. (Video run time: 1:48)

When Should Families Start Talking About Paying for College?

Is it better to have the cost conversation early on, or wait until a student has been accepted to his or her dream college?

Jeff Selingo, visiting scholar at Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities, recommends that students face financial considerations early on to avoid unrealistic emotional investments in a particular school. (Video run time: 1:12)