Paying for college or university

College can be very expensive. It is easy for students in the USA to find themselves with large amounts of debt from the cost of college. However, there are several options for paying for college. Learn about government loans, scholarships and grants, private loans, and paying for college with part-time work.

female graduate holding diploma and hugging senior
Photo: iStock/Andres R

Government loans

Some students pay for college with loans from the government. For many students, this is the first place they look when paying for college. When you apply for loans from the government, you have to repay the money with interest. This means you return it with extra money added. Many graduates spend years paying back their student loans.

To apply for a loan from the government, you have to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing the FAFSA is very complicated and confusing. You may find a school counselor to help you.

Currently, undocumented and DACA students cannot apply for FASFA but should check state and college-level funding. Each state has different requirements.

Scholarships and grants

Grants and scholarships are financial help that does not have to be repaid. Low-income families can receive grants or scholarships to help them pay for college. Grants can come from the federal government or state government. USAHello has a list of scholarships for refugees and immigrants. This list also has scholarship information for undocumented and DACA students. You look for and apply for scholarships from your college and from local organizations.

Private loans

Private loans are loans from organizations (such as banks) or from individuals – for example a friend or member of your family. Private loans sometimes have very high interest rates. Before you decide to borrow money for college fees or living expenses, you should talk to a school counselor or someone who can help you and make sure you understand the loans. You can also read more about credit cards and loans.

Paying for college with part-time work

Many students in the USA pay for college by going to school part-time and working part-time. Sometimes, schools will give students grants that allow them to work on campus and get paid from Federal Work Study funds. Or you can look for a part-time job off campus that has flexible hours so that you can attend college.

It can be very hard to go to college while you are working, especially if you have a family. Make sure you apply for scholarships and through FAFSA as well.