March 02, 2017 · Budget, Education

Financial Planning for College Freshmen

When helping Delta Community members plan for college, our financial professionals say the most common question they hear is, “How am I going to pay for it?”

With the costs of higher education continuing to rise, it is more important than ever for students and their families to develop a strategy to pay for tuition, housing, meals, books and more. While the fall semester may seem like a long way off, now is the time to develop a payment plan.

When considering financial aid, remember that student loans must be paid back, but grants and scholarships are awarded free and clear – so it’s a good idea to look for them first.

Need-based financial aid is awarded to students who are unable to pay for college, and it is distributed through both private and federal student loans and grants. The first step for anyone seeking financial aid should be to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine the level of need and to start the process of securing:
  • Federal and state grants, which do not need to be repaid upon graduation
  • Federal student loans, which must be repaid – but repayment may begin after graduation
  • Federal work-study program enrollment, which employs eligible students in a field that supports their studies and allows them to earn money for educational expenses
Merit-based financial aid focuses on academic performance, involvement in extracurricular activities or other achievements. A high school guidance counselor can help you determine whether you qualify for merit-based financial aid, and direct you to local, state or federal scholarships and grants that fit your unique skills.

Students should also independently search for scholarships offered by a wide array of organizations such as churches, their parents’ employers and financial institutions. Delta Community, for example, offers an annual scholarship program to its eligible members. Other resources include and

If you still come up short after obtaining grants, scholarships or government loans, you might consider a private student loan. Consider this option carefully, since private loans may have higher interest rates than federal student loans, their repayment may begin immediately, and they are often not eligible for forbearance, consolidation or loan forgiveness.

Remember, too, that colleges want to help. If you receive less money than you need, contact your prospective school’s financial aid office and appeal directly for assistance. Explain your situation and ask for a review of the aid offered. Some financial aid officers may adjust their formula on a case-by-case basis.

A college education is one of the best investments you can make in your own future. While it may seem like a steep cost, scholarships, grants and even loans can help you achieve college goals without breaking the bank.