Paying For School

How to pay for your college education

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Although the price tag on some colleges can seem out of reach, financial aid (including a mix of loans, grants, and scholarships) can help you meet the costs. Find out more about applying for financial aid and managing your school expenses below.

Cost of Attendance

The first step in paying for college is figuring out the cost of attendance (COA). Besides tuition, it includes your housing, food, fees, books, travel, and personal expenses. Each school has a different COA, depending on whether it’s a public or private school, in state or out of state, and other factors.

Apply for financial aid

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step toward receiving almost any type of financial aid. The application helps you figure out your needs by asking questions about your financial situation. FAFSA submission opens on October 1st each year, so complete your application ASAP since many grants are first come, first served.

Complete the FAFSA


A scholarship is financial aid given to a student based on merit—such as grades, sports participation, community service, and other achievements. If you get a scholarship, you don’t have to pay anything back! Learn more about college scholarships.

Apply for Excelsior, the tuition-free scholarship

If you decide to apply to a City of New York (CUNY) or State University of New York (SUNY) school, you may be eligible to go tuition-free through the Excelsior Scholarship. To receive the scholarship, you must:

  • have a family income of $100,000 or less
  • fill out FAFSA and Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) applications
  • attend college full-time
  • complete 30 college credits each year (students with financial hardship can take fewer credits)
Learn more about the Excelsior Scholarship


Grants are financial aid that’s given according to need. Most grants come from colleges and federal and state governments—and you don’t have to pay them back! Some common grants available to qualifying students in New York include:

  • Pell Grant
    The Pell Grant is money that the federal government gives to college students who need help paying for school. You can start applying for the Pell Grant by completing your FAFSA application.
  • TAP
    The New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) helps people who live in New York pay for certain in-state schools. TAP has its own application form, which you can complete at the same time as your FAFSA. Fill out TAP to see if you’re eligible for financial aid at several New York State colleges.


To help cover the cost of school, many students choose to borrow money from the government, their school, or banks. Unlike grants and scholarships, you must pay back these loans (with interest).

Not all loans are the same. For example, federal loans usually offer you better terms than private loans.

Stay informed about the loans you’re considering and start thinking about how you can pay them back in the future.

Before taking out a loan, check out a student loan calculator to see what your monthly repayment schedule could be.

Apply for a federal loan

Like most other types of financial aid, the first step in getting a federal loan is filling out the FAFSA.

Apply for loans with FAFSA

Managing Your Costs

Most college students live on a tight budget. Managing your money at school cuts down on debt and creates good habits. Making and sticking to a strict budget can help, as can working a part-time job (less than 20 hours a week).

School should be the main focus while you’re studying, but getting a part-time job can help ease your financial burden. At some colleges, you can find an on-campus or off-campus job through the federal Work-Study program. Check with your school’s financial aid office to learn more.