Financial aid offers from the colleges oftentimes don’t cover the entire direct cost of college. This means that after financial aid has been applied, there is usually a balance leftover that the student must pay, which is billed by the college. The total amount due for the year is typically split into two or three bills, based on whether the college goes by the semester system, quarter system, or credit hours. The student will receive the fall bill via mail or via the student’s college portal. Bill due dates will vary by college, but typically must be paid before classes for the new term start.
There are several options for paying the college bill, and it all depends on what works for you and your family. When planning to pay the college bill, students and families should consider these options first:
- Family/student savings from savings accounts, and/or college savings plans (such as 529 college savings accounts, if applicable)
- Earnings from summer or part-time jobs may help cover part of the college bill or cover indirect expenses like transportation, books, or dorm room supplies.
- Outside scholarships can be used at any college or university. Search for scholarships and pay close attention to deadlines.
- Tuition Payment Plans may make the bill more manageable by enabling you to pay the estimated bill over the course of the school year instead of having to pay it all at once and with no interest accrual. You can look at your college’s website for payment plans available and see if there is one that fits your family’s budget.
These are the best options to pay the college bill because they do not need to be repaid in the future. However, student loans are also another option. If you are considering taking out student loans to cover the college bill, it is advisable to maximize your eligibility for Federal Direct Student Loans or campus-based loans first before looking at private student loans. There are several reasons why federal student loans and campus-based loans may be more beneficial than those you may find on the private market:
- Favorable interest rates and terms
- Eligibility doesn’t depend on credit history
- More flexibility during repayment
- May be eligible for loan forgiveness if you work in a certain field
In addition to Federal Direct Loans offered to you, the student, there is also a federal loan option for parent(s) who would like to help their children cover the college bill. The Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) allows parents to borrow up to the cost of attendance (after existing financial aid has been taken into account) every year of college, with no long-term cumulative limit. In addition, they may postpone monthly payments on the loan until after their child graduates (although interest will continue to accrue on the loan balance regardless). Also important to note, if your parent(s) apply for the PLUS but are denied, you become eligible for an additional $4,000 in Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans for the school year. If you find yourself in this situation you should contact your financial aid office for the next steps in having the extra loan amount credited to your account.