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Can I Afford to Go to College?

Ten Tips to Get You There

Yay, you’ve been accepted to college! Your future looks so bright you need shades… college is a wonderful experience full of learning, making new friends, and preparing for your career. But, wait! How are you (and/or your parents) going to pay for all of this?

  1. Start Early. The time to figure out how to pay for college isn’t when you’ve received your acceptance letter… it’s when you start high school. Starting with your freshman year, stay mindful of your grades and the classes you select—scholarships are often based on your GPA and/or the rigor of your class load. College acceptance boards like seeing students who challenged themselves so maybe enroll in an Advanced Placement (AP) classes during high school. While a high GPA is usually desired, also know that a lower grade in an AP class is okay. While academics are stressed by colleges, they also love to see a student who gives back to their community. See what service projects are offered by your clubs, schools, and churches, but don’t be afraid to start your own! The more service the better, as colleges want a student who can juggle academics with volunteering.
  2. Dual Credit (DC). Many high schools offer dual credit classes, so that students can simultaneously earn high school AND college credit—all at a reduced cost! This is a great way to knock out core classes for college, which will only reduce the amount you owe in the long run. Plus, by taking enough classes, you can even enter college as a sophomore! How cool is that?
  3. Private Scholarships. There are all kinds of private scholarships available to students! Your best resource is your high school’s College & Career Center. Their guidance counselors are there to help get you into the college of your dreams with the least amount of money coming out of your pocket. Utilize their services; become their BFF! The College & Career Center weeds out all of the sketchy scholarships, so they’re a great resource. Colleges can also offer scholarships to prospective students, so make sure to reach out and find out! Websites like and also offer a comprehensive database of all national scholarships. The only catch is some of them may not be the most reliable, so make sure to use caution when you’re on there.
  4. AFSA Scholarships. One fast and easy scholarship opportunity that we can tell you about is AFSA’s Scholarship Contest. AFSA offers two scholarships: one for high school seniors and one for college undergrad or graduate students. For both contests, applicants are required to read a passage about fire sprinklers—which describes their history, how they operate to save lives and property, and the types of careers that are available in the industry—and take an eight-question reading comprehension test. For each question answered correctly, the student receives one entry into a drawing for a scholarship. For high school seniors, 10 scholarships are offered: each worth $2,000. The second chance contest offers five scholarships, each worth $1,000. The high school contest is typically open August-April and the second chance contest April-August. For more information on both scholarships, visit
  5. Financial Aid. Your other BFF should be the staff in your college’s financial aid department. All graduating high school seniors should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. This helps determine any financial aid you may qualify for. When meeting with the financial aid department, don’t be afraid to ask for a review of your FAFSA if there has been a change in income or other special situation. Colleges might also increase merit-based scholarship offers to sway prospective students to enroll. Did you serve in the military? You might qualify for veterans’ benefits. The financial aid staff can help you determine that as well.
  6. Grants. Your FAFSA application helps you find grants from colleges, states, and the federal government that don’t need to be repaid. Most are awarded based on your financial need and determined by the income you report on FAFSA forms.
  7. Work-study or part-time job. A work-study program offers part-time jobs on or nearby campus for eligible students (determined by FAFSA). If you don’t qualify for work-study, you might consider a part-time job.
  8. Claim a tax credit. The American Opportunity Tax Credit allows parents to reduce their taxes after paying for tuition, fees, books, and room and board—up to $2,500 a year per child. Parents can claim the tax credit if their modified adjusted gross income is no more than $90,000, or $180,000 if filing jointly.
  9. Take out loans. Loans should be your last resort, but they’re often inevitable. The federal government loans offer low-interest rates and borrower protections. To qualify, you must submit a FAFSA, but a higher family income doesn’t bar you from one of these loans.
  10. Live off campus or enroll in community college. If commuting to school and living at home is an option, it can save a lot of money. Oftentimes, room and board costs can equal or surpass the cost of tuition! Another option is to enroll in a local community college for a year or two before transferring to a four-year school. Just be sure to review your classes before enrolling to confirm they will transfer and credit will be applied to your transcript.

Paying for college doesn’t have to be so terrifying. High school and college counselors are there to help students and parents navigate the path to success. Make the most of your time and resources and keep AFSA in mind for potential scholarships. It’s an exciting time in your life and AFSA wishes you the best and brightest future!

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