How Do I Pay For College?

Before you decide where to go, figure out how you’ll pay for your distance learning (Photo by Tulane Public Relations)

The most important question facing potential students is how they will be able to pay for their higher education. There’s no point in rearranging your life, your family’s life, and your job, if you can’t pay for the classes you need. While websites won’t give you money, many provide tools you can use to determine how much a particular degree program will cost, and where you can find financial assistance. Best of all, there is no need to pay for that information. There are plenty of free resources, readily available.

The federal government, as the provider of most financial aid, is the best place to start. The Department of Education has sponsored the College Affordability and Transparency Center, a one-stop shop for such items as:

  • The College Affordability and Transparency List. This site has information about tuition and net prices at postsecondary institutions. The site highlights institutions with high and low tuition and fees as well as high and low net prices (the price of attendance minus grant and scholarship aid). It also shows institutions where tuition and fees and net prices are increasing at the highest rates.
  • The Net Price Calculator Center. Links to colleges’ net price calculators. Net price calculators help you estimate how much colleges cost after scholarships and grants.
  • The College Navigator. Search for and compare colleges on all sorts of criteria including costs, majors offered, size of school, campus safety, and graduation rates.
  • 90/10 Information. A list of for-profit (proprietary) postsecondary institutions that receive more than 90 percent of their revenues from Title IV Federal Student Aid.
  • State Spending Charts. Summary information on changes in state appropriations for postsecondary education, state aid for students, and tuition and fees.

ACE, the American Council on Education, has links to informative publications:

  • Putting College Costs Into Context (PDF; 335 KB) gives a brief overview on the cost of attending college and how much financial aid is available for students. It also looks at why college prices are rising and what higher education institutions are doing to contain costs.
  • The Anatomy of College Tuition (PDF; 1.9 MB), by Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman. This report is based on the authors’ book, Why Does College Cost So Much? and explores an economic framework for the forces driving college tuition.

Collegeboard.org, a “not-for-profit membership organization committed to excellence and equity in education”, is primarily aimed at high school students preparing to attend a traditional college, but it has many helpful links for returning students, as well:

The Paying for College page itself has links to:

Before taking one more step on the path to your new career, explore any or all of these resources. They can make a difference of thousands of dollars in your life.

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