How Are You Paying for College?

There is a lot that goes into getting ready to attend a university: choosing a school, choosing decorations for your dorm room, and of course figuring out how you're going to pay for the whole thing. 

This is one of the biggest investments you will ever make. As students fresh out of high school, you don't have the benefit of a job or a huge savings account to pull from, meaning you'll have to scrap together your payments in a multitude of different ways.

Some students have financially supportive parents or grandparents who help out, some students take out loans or receive financial aid, some pay from savings and others receive scholarships.

Though everyone pays off school differently, everyone needs to have a plan. This article attempts to address the different options that a prospective college student has, and the measures you may have to make in order to pay off the investment of a lifetime.

How America Pays for College

According to a study by Sallie Mae, the average total spent on college $24,164 in 2015, which is up 16% from $20,882 in 2014.

Here is the breakdown of how those tuition bills were paid:

  • 32% from parent income and savings
  • 30% scholarships and grants
  • 16% student borrowing
  • 11% student income and savings
  • 6% parent borrowing
  • 5% relatives and friends


All of these numbers might seem a little scary, especially if you don’t know where to begin. For many students, a large chunk of funding for school comes from family contributions. This means one of the first things you need to do is talk to your parents! Find out what plans they may already have in place, and how you can contribute to them. 

When I was planning on attending the University of Idaho, my parents and I met with a financial advisor to discuss our options. This might be beneficial for you and your parents to do as well, because they will be able to give you insight on loans and scholarships that can help with the bills as well. 

If you have a job, start saving! Even just putting aside $50 per paycheck can help you pay off debt in the long run. 

Financial Aid

Not all students are fortunate enough to have parents who can help them pay for school, and even those who do still often have to rely on some sort of financial aid to help cover costs.

Learn as much as you can about how you can pay for school through financial aid and loans. Make a plan to meet with your school guidance counselor or another advisor to help with this.

In order to receive financial aid, you'll need to complete the FAFSA every year you are attending college. Learn more about financial aid with our guide.


Most students have to take on loans to cover some of their college expenses. These can either be federal loans offered through the government, or private loans from another lender.

Federal loans often have the best rates and offer other benefits to students such as deferment and forbearance, and income-based repayment plants.

However, a private loan may be necessary once you have reached the limit on the amount of federal loans you can take on. Make sure you education yourself on what is expected to repay a private loans and compare offers from multiple lenders to find the best options for you. The easiest way to do this is to use a site like Credible which will help you compare and contrast multiple offers at once.

Read our student loan guide for more information.

Other Methods

I have used a variety of methods to pay for school: my parents have helped me, I've taken out loans and gotten merit scholarships, and have worked and paid from savings.

However, what works for one person may not work for someone else, so it's important that you take the time to sit down with your parents or a financial advisor to decide what would be the best method of payment.

A lot of people try to work their way through school, but it can be stressful to juggle priorities of work and school. Most educational experts recommend working no more than 15 to 20 hours a week while in school full time.

This is a great opportunity for you to learn time management and self discipline. From working and juggling school, I can say that it’s important to buy a planner and make sure that you budget your time wisely. If you can do this, you should be able to have enough money for books and additional expenses. 

No matter what method of payment you choose, it has been said by 88% of families that they are willing to stretch their dollars for college. It is a worthwhile investment to attend a school that is the right fit academically and financially. Don't let anything stand in your way!

College Factual has partnered with Credible, a site that allows students to compare personalized offers from multiple lenders in minutes. Using this service students and parents can find the best rates on private student loans, and graduates can refinance their loans to potentially save thousands. Learn more about our partnership