How am I Going to Pay for College?

Summary: This comprehensive guide on paying for college discusses the average costs associated with college, how to apply for financial aid, and how to find college scholarships.

Imagine that you are perusing the website of your top-choice college, dreaming of being a student, but are snapped back to the present when you catch a glimpse of the tuition and fees. At first glance, the overall cost of college can be jarring, leaving you wondering what you can do to attend the college of your dreams.

Let’s put it all into perspective, though, so you can understand all that’s included in the cost. Then, we’ll discuss how and where to apply for financial aid, including grants and scholarships, and provide some helpful resources from K12-powered online schools and scholarship search engines that can help you get started.

Average Cost of College 

You may be wondering how much you should expect to pay for college. Well, according to College Board, this is what the average tuition and fees for full-time undergraduate students for the 2022–23 academic year looked like:  

  • Public two-year colleges (in-district students): $3,860  
  • Public four-year colleges and universities (in-state students): $10,940 
  • Public four-year colleges and universities (out-of-state students): $28,240  
  • Private nonprofit four-year colleges and universities: $39,400 

Keep in mind, these numbers are averages and only represent the tuition and fees, which means they don’t include additional expenses such as room and board, textbooks, transportation, and personal expenses. 

Your education is an investment, and it’s crucial to make informed decisions by researching your options. Start by examining the tuition and fees of different schools, and don’t forget to consider expected additional costs. Factors such as attending school in your current state or out of state, as well as choosing between a public or private school can greatly affect the amount you’ll need to pay. Take time to carefully consider your options before making your decision.

Applying for Financial Aid

Now that you have an understanding of the costs associated with college, you should start thinking about how you’ll pay for school. Most college students use federal or private student loans to help cover the cost of tuition, room and board, and other related expenses. Federal loans are provided by the government and generally have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options than private loans, which are provided by banks, credit unions, and other lenders.  

If you choose to take out a student loan, you’ll repay the loan plus interest over a set period of time. It’s important to carefully consider how much you borrow and how you’ll repay the loan after you graduate. If you want to reduce the amount of student loans you take out, you can consider working a part-time job while in school as well as applying for scholarships and grants to help cover the cost of college.

Follow the steps below to create a plan for funding your college journey:  

  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®): The FAFSA® is a form that collects information about your family’s income and assets, as well as your own academic and personal information. It’s used to determine your eligibility for federal financial aid programs such as grants, loans, and work-study programs. Be aware that changes to the form occurred at the end of 2023, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the form and what you need to apply for federal student aid.
  • Apply for state financial aid programs: Many states offer financial aid programs for college-bound students, which may include loans, grants, scholarships, and loan forgiveness. Check with your state’s higher education agency for more information.  
  • Research and apply for scholarships: Scholarships are gifts that do not need to be repaid and can help supplement your financial aid package. There are many scholarships offered by a wide range of institutions and individuals that you can apply for. Start looking for scholarship opportunities by asking your high school guidance counselor for help or using an online scholarship search engine.  
  • Contact your college’s financial aid office: Once you have been accepted to a college, you should contact the financial aid office to discuss your plan for paying for school. A financial aid officer can answer your questions on cost and payment, as well as provide helpful resources and information on institutional, federal, and state financial assistance options. 
  • Review and accept (or appeal) your financial aid award package: Once you have completed the FAFSA® and applied for other financial aid, you will receive a financial aid award package from your college. This package will outline the types and amounts of financial aid you are eligible to receive. You will need to review and accept the package before the funds can be disbursed.
    • You may be able to appeal your financial aid decision and request additional funding from your college if you did not receive enough aid and your financial circumstances have recently changed. These circumstances may include job loss or decrease in income, divorce, catastrophic damage or loss, change in child support or alimony payments, and more.

How do I apply for scholarships?

If you’ll be attending college next fall, now is the perfect time to prepare for the scholarship application process. Get started by visiting the K12 Career and College Prep Center, which offers valuable guidance on finding and applying for college scholarships, along with a step-by-step guide on how to apply and information on different types of awards. This online school places a strong emphasis on preparing students for life after high school graduation and can help you along the way.

Once you’re ready to begin your search, using a scholarship search engine can easily connect you to thousands of opportunities based on your academic or athletic achievements, financial need, and special interests. Plus, many search engines allow you to create a profile that can help you find scholarships that best suit you. Get started by visiting one of these helpful websites:

  • CareerOneStop: Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, this scholarship search engine has over 9,000 scholarships listed and allows you to filter by level of study, award type, location, and keyword.
  • Tallo for Students: Recommended by K12-powered online schools. Here, you’ll create a personal profile and get matched with the best scholarships for you and your circumstances. Search by keyword to narrow down their database of over 17,000 scholarships or check out your daily scholarship matches on your personal dashboard.
  • Get matched with the best options from their robust database of over 3.7 million college scholarships and grants worth about $19 billion in financial aid. You can also search for scholarships based on categories and subcategories.
  • Going Merry: This site simplifies the application process. With each section you complete in your personal profile, you unlock multiple scholarship opportunities that you can apply for simultaneously.
  • Scholly: This top scholarship app has helped students win more than $35 million in scholarships. Create a profile, and Scholly will create a list of scholarships that match your profile. It even ranks each scholarship based on how well it matches your background and circumstances.
  • Fastweb: With a database of over 1.5 million vetted scholarships, Fastweb helps connect you to the best award opportunities based on your strengths, interests, activities, and skills.
  • Niche: Search and filter through lists of scholarships or create a profile to get matched to scholarships you are eligible for. While you’re there, you can also read reviews of colleges from real students.

Helpful Resources

Don’t forget that there are many helpful online tools and resources that can guide you through the financial aid process. The K12 Career and College Prep Center is a great place to get started, with personalized, live assistance from College Prep coaches, resources for college applications, and expert scholarship guidance—making preparing for college a breeze!

To learn more about K12-powered online schools and their career and college prep offerings, go to

Related Articles

Join our community

Sign up to participate in America’s premier community focused on helping students
reach their full potential.