How Students Can Create the Ultimate Financial Aid Plan

College Finance
November 24, 2020
Financial Aid Is Rarely At The Top Of Incoming College Students’ To-Do Lists...

Yet, it’s one of the most important processes to get out of the way in order to truly benefit from going to college. With the costs of college rising each year, students are well-served to create a financial aid plan now instead of waiting until they enroll in their first semester of classes.

By entering their first semester already knowing how to pay for college, students can focus more on getting adjusted to college life rather than scrambling to find ways to cut their expenses halfway through their education. Ultimately, a solid plan for handling financial aid can give students the confidence they need to thrive both, during, and after college!

The Importance Of Financial Aid

Financial aid is one of the most critical parts of any student’s college plan. The cost of college has only continued to rise as more students from across the country and around the world compete to fill spots at colleges and universities. The average cost to attend a public college, out of state, for 2020-2021 was a little over $21,000. Costs are only expected to increase as schools continue to expand.

Thankfully, there are more sources of financial aid available to students than ever before. Qualifying students can receive need-based scholarships and the federal Pell Grant, which make attending college more possible for low-income or otherwise disenfranchised students. Even if your student believes they cannot afford college without taking out massive student loans, there are options that make getting a four-year degree without taking on debt possible.

Of course, another important part of financial aid is making sure students know the real cost of college and explore options to limit how much they have to pay for. Attending community college, choosing an in-state school, or going to a public institution rather than a private one can all help lower the amount your student has to pay for their education.

Regardless of where your student attends college, be careful not to rule out any form of financial aid before doing your research. Even if you believe your student won’t qualify for scholarships or grants due to their background or academics, apply anyway! There are sources of funding for students from all backgrounds; all your student needs to do is seek them out and apply.

The Ultimate Financial Aid Plan

Remember that each student and college is unique. Your student’s plan to pay for one school may not fully cover the costs for another institution, and therefore you may want to draft several different plans that scale to each of your student’s reach, target, and safety schools. The ultimate financial aid plan is one where all of your student’s college costs can be comfortably covered for their entire education without placing an undue burden on themselves to pay back student loans after they graduate.


Scholarships for college students are generally organized into two main categories: need-based and merit-based. As the name need-based implies, these scholarships are distributed to students who need the aid the most; whether this is due to financial hardship at home, being a first-generation college student, or facing another adversity that would normally make attending college impossible. Many colleges offer their own need-based scholarships to help diversify their student body by giving students from a variety of backgrounds the opportunity to study at their campus.

Merit-based scholarships, on the other hand, are awarded to students based on their academic, extracurricular, or other extraordinary achievements. These are often extremely competitive, but worthwhile, and many colleges offer these merit-based scholarships. One of the most commonly recognized types of merit-based scholarships is the “full-ride sports scholarship” that allows exceptional athletes to both compete and earn their degrees.

Fortunately, being eligible for one type of scholarship does not normally affect your student’s eligibility to apply for other scholarships, but make sure you and your student check the exact rules and details of each scholarship they earn carefully. Many merit-based scholarships require students to maintain a certain GPA level throughout college, and even need-based scholarships may have a minimum GPA level to ensure students are on track to graduate.

One of the best parts about scholarships? If students uphold their end of the bargain by maintaining their GPA and graduating, they do not need to be paid back.


Grants function in a similar way to scholarships, and they also do not need to be paid back upon graduation, provided that a student follows all the rules they agreed to upon taking the grant. One of the most well-known grants comes right from the federal government: the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant is need-based aid available to students who haven’t received a full four-year degree and does not need to be paid back. Additionally, many private companies and public organizations offer grant programs for students. These can vary from need-based to merit-based grants revolving around certain industries, majors, or areas of interest. Your student should check with their college’s financial aid center as soon as possible to get help identifying grants they can benefit from.

Remember that, just like scholarships, grants often have terms and conditions that students must meet in order to avoid having to pay them back. These often include graduating within a certain time frame, maintaining a certain GPA, or committing to work in a certain area or industry for a set amount of time after school. Make sure your student is aware of all the commitments that come with their grant money!


There are a plethora of myths about student loans both in popular culture and across the Internet. However, when used in combination with other financial aid sources, student loans can be a responsible way for students to pay for their college expenses. If your student needs to find a source of funding beyond scholarships and grants to cover the rest of their college costs, taking out student loans can mean the difference between being able to attend college or not.

One of the most important things for students to keep in mind regarding student loans is that this should be the last source they turn to for financial aid; make sure your student has searched high and low for scholarships and grants that they can make use of before turning to loans!

In general, there are two types of student loans: federal loans, which are backed by the US government, and private loans backed by private companies. Generally, federal loans offer the most protection for students in the event they have trouble paying their loans after college, while private loans may offer better long-term interest rates. Students should carefully compare loans to their situation and their expected job outlook in their future career, and then create a tentative plan for how they would pay back their loans before they sign any paperwork. Student loans can be part of your student’s sound financial plan to pay for college, but only if they put in the legwork to research all their options.


Unlike working a part-time job during college, work-study programs are sponsored by your student’s college itself and often provide plenty of downtime on the clock that students can use to study or work on homework. Work-study programs are extremely popular options for students to add a small amount of extra income to their financial aid plan; money earned from a work-study job can be used to pay for anything from books to food.

If your student can land a work-study position, it can mean the difference between a shoe-string budget during college and one that provides breathing room to have fun and experience everything college has to offer. Additionally, work-study programs often help students build valuable management and work skills that they can use when they enter the working world.

Paying For College Can Be Simple

How to pay for college is not a topic that is often talked about with high school students, but it is one of the most impactful decisions of their young adult life. Having a solid financial aid plan in place before heading off to college can set your student up for a lifetime of success. Take the time to research all their options for paying for college, from scholarships to student loans, and see which options best suit your student’s unique situation and needs.

If your student is curious about their options to pay for college and need more guidance, please reach out to our WeAdmit counselors. We have experience in all areas of the college application process, and we know that includes creating a rock-solid plan for how to pay for college. Once we’ve helped your student create a comprehensive financial aid plan, we can move on to helping them throughout the rest of the admissions process so they can start working towards the college of their dreams!



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