How to Use FAFSA, Unsubsidized Loans, or Private Student Loans to Help Pay for College

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Finance School Tuition

Are you planning to go back to school after taking some time off? Dusting off those old credits, or maybe planning a career change? Perhaps you’re 18 and fresh out of high school–or 23 and just finished a second tour in the military, and you’re ready to jump into college.

Figuring out how to finance school shouldn’t be an obstacle in going back to college. The finance industry for universities and colleges is huge, and continues to be solid enough to provide millions of dollars in financing choices for students and prospective students. There are plenty of financial aid options. Let’s start with the first: the Federal Application for Student Assistance, also known as FAFSA.


The FAFSA is a fairly long (but not too difficult) form (online and print) that you complete when you’re preparing to attend college. Whether you’re starting an Associate’s degree of completing your Doctorate, you fill out the FAFSA. The FAFSA determines aid calculations–how much money you receive in grants, loans, and federal work study dollars to help you finance school.

For undergraduate students, grants are available, as well as loans and federal work study. For graduate students, there are no federal grants that are distributed via the FAFSA.

Graduate students, like undergrads, can qualify for special subsidized federal student loans, however. Filling out the FAFSA helps you to qualify for these special loans, and can save you thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars long term by subsidizing your interest rate on your loans. Always fill out the FAFSA to help finance school tuition and expenses.

Once you’ve filled out the FAFSA and learned the difference between what you’ll receive in financial aid and how much remains, you need to move on to other sources.

Other Sources to Finance School

Let’s imagine you’re attending a school that costs $10,000 per year in tuition, fees, and other costs. You get $1,000 in grants, and have $3,000 saved. That leaves a shortfall of $6,000. You qualify for $4,000 in federal loans, leaving a shorfall of $2,000. That’s your finance obstacle right there–two thousands dollars stands between you and college.

You can receive unsubsidized loans, or private student loans, from various sources. Your local town bank may offer special private student loans–always start with your own bank. They know your credit history, and you have a longer history with them so that they can understand your credit risk.

Other financing companies, such as Discover, Wells Fargo, and AAA provide private student loans. The interest rate will be higher, but it can help you to cover the needed difference.

Remember when financing school that you will have to pay any loans long-term. Think carefully about long-term loan commitments, future salary projections, and so forth before taking on large school finance commitments.