Although college may seem expensive, financial aid can help you pay for tuition, books, supplies and other costs. In some cases, students can attend college for free. Talk to your school counselor about free money available that can help you and your family pay for college.
Some financial aid is awarded to students who apply the earliest. Be sure to stay aware of the FAFSA deadline each year.
Types of Financial Aid
Help paying for college is called financial aid. Types of financial aid include:
- student loans
- work-study programs
The most important thing you can do to get financial aid is complete the FAFSA. The FAFSA is a free application.
How financial aid is calculated
Financial aid is calculated based on a number of factors in your life, such as how many people live in your household, the number of children in college in your family, and your parent or guardian’s age. There is no income cut-off to apply for federal student aid. Use the resources below to learn more about financial aid for you and your family:
- To estimate how much federal student aid your family may receive, visit FAFSA4caster.
- To estimate financial aid for colleges across the nation, visit Net Price Calculator.
Where financial aid comes from
Financial aid can come from:
To learn more about types of financial aid and where they come from, visit the US Department of Education.
How colleges use the FAFSA
Colleges use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine if your family is eligible for federal student aid. The FAFSA helps a college determine if you are eligible for grants, work-study programs, and/or student loans.
Financial aid options for undocumented students
If you are an undocumented student, you are not eligible for federal and state financial aid. However, you can apply for private scholarships and awards. For information visit the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs City Services.
How do I complete the FAFSA?
During the year you are applying to college, you need to complete your FAFSA. You should plan to complete your FAFSA in October or November. Below are the steps for completing the FAFSA. If you need additional help, see the FAFSA Guide.
- Create an FSA ID for your parent or guardian, and another FSA ID for yourself a few days before completing your FAFSA. FSA IDs are personal usernames and passwords used as a legal signature on the FAFSA.
- Gather the important documents needed to complete the FAFSA. Visit the US Department of Education website for a list of documents you will need.
- Start working on the FAFSA as soon as possible. Fill out the FAFSA here.
- Make sure you are on the website that says “ed.gov” at the top of the screen. Do not go to “FAFSA.com” or any other website.
- You can also download the myStudentAid app for iOS or Android.
- You can get free professional help to complete FAFSA at a College Goal NY event.
- Proofread before submitting the forms. Mistakes can delay the approval process.
- At the end of the FAFSA, click on the link that says “Optional Feature”. This link will take you to the application for the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). TAP helps New York students pay tuition in New York State colleges. Because TAP is a grant, you do not have to pay it back.
- Complete additional forms, if needed. Some private colleges require additional financial forms like the CSS profile. Visit Collegeboard for a list of colleges that require CSS.
I filled out the financial aid forms. What’s next?
Congratulations on completing the important forms! Don't forget to do these things too:
Review your Student Aid Report (SAR) and Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
The SAR report provides a summary of the FAFSA and includes your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The information you report on your FAFSA form is used to calculate your EFC. The EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college. Instead, it is an index number used by financial aid offices to calculate your financial need.
Make FAFSA corrections, if needed
It takes about three days to process your FAFSA. If after you submitted your application you realize you made an error, you can submit a correction (after your application has been processed). For instance, you can correct typos or add another school to receive your FAFSA information. Log in with your FSA ID at fafsa.gov, and then select “Make FAFSA Corrections."
Apply for scholarships
Scholarships can make a big difference when paying for college. There are thousands of scholarships, but many have early deadlines. Start applying for scholarships as soon as possible. Visit the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Federal Student Aid for more information.
Review and compare financial aid award letters
The colleges where you are accepted will send a financial award letter, which will explain the financial aid you can expect if you attend that school. Compare financial aid packages offered by each school to find the best financial fit for your family. Use the Financial Award Packages Comparison Tool as a guide. When you have chosen a school, call the college’s financial aid office and make sure all documents are received, and your financial aid is set before classes start.
Understanding All College Costs
Money concerns should not stop you from exploring all options—but it is important to understand how much college really costs. The biggest college expense is usually tuition. There are four other categories of expenses included in the total cost of attendance:
- Room and board (campus housing and meals);
- Books and supplies;
- Personal expenses; and
Visit College Score Card to estimate the price for a college.
Understanding School Loans
Before taking out a loan, you should apply for grants and scholarships. A loan is money that you borrow to pay for college and must pay back later, plus interest. Here are several things to know about loans:
- Be a responsible borrower. Before you sign for any loan, make sure you ask questions. Find out when you or your family must start paying the money back and how much interest you will have to pay. Ask your college and career counselor at your school or a financial aid officer for help if you do not understand the loan documents. You can also visit an NYC Financial Empowerment Center for free 1:1 financial counseling.
- Know the difference between student and parent loans. There are different types of loans for students and parents.
- A Direct Subsidized Perkins Loan is a Federal student loan that has a lower interest rate. Students do not have to start paying this loans back until after they graduate from college. However, students do have to start paying if they decide to leave school
- Federal Direct Plus Loans for parents have higher interest rates than Direct Subsidized Loans for students.. Additionally, the loan accrues interest right away, and a credit check is necessary to apply.
Be aware of “for profit” colleges
Many families have lost a lot of money to colleges called “for profit” or “proprietary” schools. Before you apply to a for-profit college, speak to your school counselor and find out if it is the best choice for you. Also, ask an admissions officer at each college the following questions:
- What percentage of your students graduate with a degree?
- How many students have trouble paying back their loans after they graduate?
New York State DREAM Act for Undocumented and Immigrant Students
Undocumented students and other immigrant students at your school can now access New York State‐administered grants and scholarships to support their college costs, including New York’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), when they complete the New York State DREAM Act (“NYS DREAM Act”) eligibility application.
You can learn about eligibility and apply at www.hesc.ny.gov/dream.
Tips to Help Pay for College
It is never too early to save money for college! Here are ways you can save that you can start any time.
Families of Elementary and Middle School Students
- Open a college savings account. New York State offers 529 Accounts, which are investment accounts that help you save money for college. With a 529 savings account, the money adds up over time and you receive certain tax benefits.
- Take advantage of New York City's free financial services. Get help with making a budget, opening a free or low-cost bank account, opening a 529 account, and even filing your taxes.
Families of High School Students
Encourage your child to apply for scholarships the year before they apply to colleges. The following resources may help:
Think About Your Financial Future
For information on how to open a bank account, consult Get Banked NYC for information about student friendly banks in New York City.