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Financial Aid 101: How to Pay for College

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Financial Aid 101: How to Pay for College

Families and students are often shocked at the sticker price for a college education. While a college education can be an expensive investment, financial aid can help make it a more affordable venture. According to a report conducted by the Education Data Initiative, 84% of students in the United States receive some form of financial aid. We have compiled a short, yet effective list of ways you can reduce the sticker price of your college tuition.

No. 1: Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

The first step for students concerned about paying for college is to complete the Federal Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA). The United States Department of Education uses the FAFSA to determine the amount of need-based aid a student might be eligible to receive. Several colleges use calculations from the FAFSA to determine how much institutional aid to award students. The FAFSA also allows students to request federal grants, work-study funds, and loans to help pay for college. According to a report conducted by the Education Data Initiative, 71% of college-bound students seek federal aid to pay for college.

As of December 2023, the U.S. Department of Education launched a new FAFSA form to streamline the application process. On January 30, 2024, the Department of Education announced that institutions will not receive FAFSA applicant information until “the first half of March.” This will cause delays for schools awarding institutional financial aid to students because such need-based aid is determined from the Student Aid Index (SAI) calculated by the FAFSA.
Fontbonne University’s Financial Aid office will be hosting FAFSA workshops to help students and parents navigate the new FAFSA application process.

No 2: Institutional Aid

Institutional aid is financial aid provided to students by the college or university you plan to attend. Institutional aid can include scholarships and grants. The amount students might receive varies and can be based on various factors. Institutional aid may be merit-based, or need-based and is usually considered gift aid, meaning that students do not have to pay it back. The colleges you apply to may have several programs to award institutional aid to students. It is important to research what type of institutional aid your desired college offers and if the aid is automatically applied. Students might need to submit applications to be eligible for institutional aid.

At Fontbonne, there are several institutional aid and scholarship programs available to first-time freshmen, transfers, and graduate students. Students may be invited to apply for one of several institutional merit scholarships at Fontbonne including the O’Neil Stroble Presidential Scholarship award which offers full tuition for up to 10 semesters of continuous full-time study. Other scholarship categories include Fontbonne’s recognition scholarships.

Fontbonne also offers additional gift aid through programs such as The Fontbonne Promise; a unique new program from Fontbonne University that aims to make the dream of a debt-free college education a reality for low-income students. Learn more about our additional gift aid and merit-based scholarships.

No 3: Local Scholarships

Students often turn to high-dollar, national college scholarships, or limit their search for financial aid to scholarships and aid they might receive from institutions they attend. Local scholarships present an often-underrated means of securing funds for college education. Here are some steps to finding local scholarships you might be eligible for:

  • Visit your local library: Libraries are a good place to start when looking for local scholarships. As hubs for education and community connections, local grant writers might start with libraries when publicizing their scholarship programs. Your local library may provide patrons with a database for searching for grants and scholarships.
  • Ask your high school counselor: Your first stop for college-related questions and research should always be your high school counselor. Most local grant writers reach out to high schools when providing scholarships to students, it is a good idea to get direction from school sources when beginning your search.
  • Avoid Scholarship Scams: Scammers might try to take advantage of students looking for tuition funding. Do proper research before committing to any programs you find. Most legitimate scholarship programs will clearly state the businesses or entities funding the grants. If the scholarship program tries to collect sensitive information such as your social security number, credit card details, etc, do not apply. Report such websites or companies to the Federal Trade Commission.


No 4: Save on tuition with Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment Credits

Earning college credit in high school can be a good way to save on college tuition. High scores on Advanced Placement (AP) exams in high school can translate to big savings in college, as tuition is calculated per credit hour. Dual enrollment courses may be separate from high school students’ curriculum and may count towards dual credits, which allows students to earn both high school and college credits. Taking AP classes and dual enrollment courses can help you knock out General Education courses, or some prerequisite classes, helping you finish your degree faster and save on tuition.

It can be helpful to see if your school provides AP or dual enrollment classes that align with the program you hope to study in college. As always consult your high school counselor to help you plan your classes out.

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