The number one obstacle that prevents young people from going to college is money. As a guidance counselor, I have witness thousand of high school seniors make difficult choices to fund their college education. Each funding option- students consider- introduces a new set of difficult decisions to make. Below are some of the options explored by a number of prospective college- going students and their families.

Option 1: Financial Aid & Expected Family Contribution

All families should complete the financial aid application know as FAFSA.  This form will determine if the prospective college student is eligible for need-based financial assistance (e.i.,Pell Grant, Federal student loans, and Federal Work-Study). Students and their parents should not automatically assume that they will not qualify for need-based assistance. There are many factors that determine an individual’s eligibility for financial aid. Income is one aspect and the second is the price of the prospective college wants to attend.

It is important to note that financial aid does not always cover the entire tuition fee.  It is assumed that the remaining amount will be covered by the family; this is known as the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). An EFC is the amount of money, at a minimum, that a college will expect parents to pay for one year of their child’s college education. A low-income family could have an EFC that is as low as $0 or as high as $6,000. This amount depends on each family’s financial situation. For many families, their EFC may still be too high.

A number of parents do resort to private loans in order to pay for their EFC each year.  Of course, this is not always an option for everyone. Prospective college students and their families need to explore how their EFC will impact their financial situation for the next four years.

Option 2: Consider Local Community Colleges or Lower Priced Universities

One way students and their families can lower their EFC is by selecting an inexpensive post-secondary option. Community Colleges are less expensive than most four-year degree programs. Individuals who need to work while in college may discover that community college schedules are much more flexible than those provided by a four-year institution. These schools are accustomed to catering to adult students who are juggling a job and family responsibilities along with their studies.  However, these schools only offer a two-year degree or a technical certification. For individuals that want a four-year degree, they will have to transfer to another university at some point.

There are four-year postsecondary institutions that are affordable. These universities try to make the total cost of tuition and the average student debt manageable. Manageable debt is subject to interpretation.

Again, it is recommended that families review their finances to confirm that a low-priced postsecondary option is really a deal for them, and that it is the right fit for their child.  Sometimes young people choose a reasonably priced option to save money, but the school may not be the right match for their educational needs.

Option 3: Apply for Grants and Scholarships

It is highly recommended that students apply for scholarships and grants. It is free money for individuals and a great way to pay for your education. However, grants and scholarships are competitive. Generally, grants are awarded based on athletic ability or academic achievement.  The probability of landing a scholarship or a grant is very low. It is imperative that kids and their parents do not rely on this “pot of money.” Students ought to be optimistic about their chances, but have a plan B if that award does not come to fruition.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of students and their families are faced with these options.  It’s important that students understand that every decision they make to fund their education has a financial consequence.


  • Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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