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Paying for College

Paying for College

Learn how to cut down on college costs by combining different aid options like scholarships, financial aid, and federal assistance.

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When families check college tuition costs, they often get worried about the initial "sticker price" of a college. Most of the time, student-athletes and their families can substantially reduce the costs of a college education through a mix of athletic scholarships, merit scholarships, financial aid, and loans. Many students start by filling out FAFSA, a free application that can help determine how much government aid they are eligible to receive.


FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the application process through which students can become eligible for various types of financial aid, including grants, merit aid, need-based aid, federal work-study programs, and loans. While FAFSA serves as the primary application for accessing federal and state government aid, some schools also utilize this form to assess eligibility for additional forms of aid, such as private and academic aid. It's important to note that schools may have their own distinct processes and criteria for awarding aid, which may extend beyond what is determined solely by the FAFSA.

With FAFSA, it's important to remember:

  • The FAFSA form must be submitted annually for each student.
  • Each school's application process sets the deadlines for submitting FAFSA - keep track of these so you don't miss out on this important opportunity for financial assistance!

What are the Different Types of Financial Aid?


A form of financial aid that does not need to be paid back. The United States Department of Education (ED) gives federal grants to students attending four-year colleges or universities, community colleges, and trade schools annually. Most of the time, federal grants come in a financial aid package and are applied for as part of the FAFSA application process. 

Merit Aid

Another form of aid that does not need to be paid back. This can be awarded based on your accomplishments (usually academic or athletic). Not all schools give merit aid. For instance, Ivy League schools are known for providing large need-based aid packages but do not award merit aid athletically or academically.

Federal Work-Study Programs

Yet another form of aid that does not need to be paid back. This program provides students with a part-time job during college, allowing them to earn money to put toward college expenses. Federal Work Study awards are taken into account in your financial aid package. Before accepting this award, be sure you are ready to commit to a part-time job in college. Typically, Work-Study students get preferential jobs on campus. Many student-athletes opt for jobs in the library or the athletic center to keep a balanced schedule.


Most student-athletes and students will need to take out a loan to attend a college or university. This type of aid will need to be paid back. Therefore, you must research and know exactly what will be expected of you after graduation. 

Federal Loan Programs

Depending on the Federal Loan, taking out Federal Loans can be much better than taking out state, college, or private loans. Typically Federal Loans have better forbearance and forgiveness programs for students than other loans. The Federal government offers two major loan programs.

The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program

This is the largest federal student loan program. For this program, the U.S. Department of Education is your lender. There are four types of Direct Loans available: 

  • Direct Subsidized Loans: These are loans for eligible undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need to help cover higher education costs at a college or career school.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans: These are loans for eligible undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, but in this case, the student does not have to demonstrate financial need to qualify for the loan.
  • Direct PLUS Loans: These are loans made to graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students to help pay for education expenses not covered by other financial aid. 
  • Direct Consolidation Loans: These allow you to combine all of your eligible federal student loans into a single loan with a single loan servicer. 

The Federal Perkins Loan Program

This is a school-based loan program for undergraduates and graduate students with exceptional financial need. Under this program, the school is the lender. You can confirm with the school's admissions office whether they participate in this program.

Private Loans

When applying for loans, be aware of how much money you are taking out. Like federal loans, private loans must be paid back. It's important to note that private loans give students less leeway with the repayment terms, whereas federal loans are designed specifically for students, and therefore provide more flexibility for repayment.

Below are some resources to find private loans:

Who Can Receive Financial Aid?

The short answer is anyone!  Many families take themselves out of the running for financial aid before they have even applied. The most common example of this is assuming you make too much money to receive aid and do not apply to aid programs like FAFSA.  You can apply for FAFSA regardless of your income, and many schools require a completed FAFSA for academic scholarships and other private aid through the school. Also, filling out FAFSA is free!

How Do I Apply for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)? 

Before you start applying for financial aid, calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). EFC is how much the family is expected to pay for the student's yearly costs. It's compared to the college's Cost of Attendance (COA) to decide the student’s aid eligibility. To calculate your EFC, head to your Student Aid Report on FASFA

This number will likely be more than you think your family can afford. Some colleges and universities do not believe that EFC calculated by filling out FAFSA gives an accurate enough picture of your family’s ability to contribute so this is why many colleges use supplemental applications to do a separate analysis for non-federal, college-controlled financial aid.

Once you have figured out your family’s EFC, you can find your family's “need” from there. Your “need” is the difference between what you can afford for college and what college costs. 

After establishing your “need”, you should fill out The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can apply directly on their website or fill out a paper copy and mail it directly. The earlier you fill out FAFSA, the better. FAFSA is first-come-first-serve, so the earlier you send your application, the better. 

To fill out your FAFSA application, you will need the following: 

  • Social security number (including your parents’ if you are a dependent student)
  • Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
  • Driver’s license number, if applicable
  • Federal tax information or returns (including parents’ or spouse’s, if applicable)
  • Records of untaxed income
  • Dependency Status 
  • List of Schools you want FASFA information sent to. 
  • Bank account, investment, and real estate asset information
  • An FSA ID to sign electronically.

Another place you can find your family’s EFC is through a school's financial aid office. On most financial aid websites, colleges and universities have a place for you to use what is called a Net Price Calculator. This will allow you to know what your family could be expected to pay. It’s important to note that you are not guaranteed that aid by doing this. This will simply give you an estimate of how much your family will be expected to pay. 

Can Student-Athletes Receive Financial Aid? 

Yes! Student-athletes can receive financial aid through athletic scholarships. They can also apply for financial aid if they do not receive an athletic scholarship or the scholarship covers only a portion of tuition.

Student-athletes could receive academic scholarships from their college or even merit-based grants depending on the school’s endowment. 

As a student-athlete, we recommend asking coaches for a financial pre-read once you have received an official offer. In this pre-read, college coaches can tell you exactly what you will be expected to pay and how much aid they can provide. From there, your family can decide whether to apply for other forms of financial aid. 

How Common Are Athletic Scholarships?

Your likelihood of receiving an athletic scholarship depends on many different factors. Not all divisions are allowed to give athletic scholarships. The NCAA Division III and the Ivy League conference in NCAA DI are examples of groups of schools that do not give out athletic scholarships. 

Depending on the sport you play and the division, you can receive a full-ride or partial scholarship. You can learn about athletic scholarship availability in your sport here.

Student-athletes who receive athletic scholarships are usually considered 4 or 5-star recruits. They are excelling both on the athletic field and in the classroom. Once you narrow down your target list and start to have serious conversations with programs, an athletic scholarship conversation will often organically occur. Ask the college coach for a financial pre-read if this conversation is not coming up. Here, you will learn exactly what a college will offer you in aid and scholarships. 

Keep in mind that if you receive an athletic scholarship for your Freshman Year, it does not mean you will have it the following three years. Your athletic scholarship will need to be renewed each year. It can also be taken away at any time. This can happen through student misconduct or poor academic standing. These standards are set by the college or university, so they may vary across schools.

What Is the Difference Between a Scholarship and Financial Aid?

A scholarship (either athletic or academic) is awarded based on merit and not need. Scholarships do not need to be repaid to the college or university.

Financial aid is awarded based on a student's financial need. Every family is different in what they are expected to pay for their college tuition. Some families may need more than others. Financial aid includes federal loans, grants, work-study programs, and private loans.

Whereas scholarships do not need to be paid back, financial aid may need to be paid back. Grants, merit aid, scholarships, and work-study programs are types of financial aid that will not need to be paid back, however, you will need to pay back most federal or private loans. Therefore, it is important to explore all types of financial aid and understand exactly what your family will be expected to pay.


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