Tuition, school supplies, living expenses—they all add up. Learn how to create a budget and find ways to financially prepare for college.

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How one financially savvy family pays for college without debt. Use their simple tips to minimize your student loans and borrow smart.

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How to Pay for College by Yourself

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Frequently Asked Questions

Financial aid is money that helps cover the cost of college, including tuition and room and board. It can take the form of scholarships and grants (which don’t need to be repaid), loans (which do need to be repaid), and work-study. Financial aid may include federal financial aid or aid from the college or university. While some aid is based on income, some is merit-based. The first step in applying for aid is filling out the FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and looking for scholarship opportunities.

Student loans are often the catchall term to describe any financial assistance that needs to be repaid. This includes federal loans, as well as private loans. Private student loans may be an option to help cover remaining college expenses, but they are not part of the FAFSA and may not be listed as part of your award letter.

Scholarships are awarded on a national, regional, and local level. There also may be scholarships distributed by your college. The best way to find scholarships is to search and apply for scholarships that match your criteria. While some scholarships are merit-based, not all are.

A merit scholarship is awarded on merit (grades, special skills, or achievements) and not solely based on financial need. Merit scholarships are commonly awarded for academic excellence, but not always. Merit scholarships may also be awarded for athletic ability, artistic ability, and more.

It’s possible to pay for college without the financial support of your parents. But even if you’re paying for college independently, you may need to include your parent’s information on the FAFSA. Applying for financial aid, considering community college, and applying for scholarships can all help you cover college costs independently.

Since most people qualify for some aid, it is a good idea to fill out the FAFSA even if you don’t think your family will qualify for financial aid. Some aid is first come, first served, so be sure to fill out the FAFSA as soon as it’s available.