Follow these steps to determine how you’ll pay for college.
Step 1: Learn about types of financial aid
Scholarships come from private donors or from your college, and are not repaid. Some are based on financial need, while others are based on criteria such as academics, leadership, athletics, talents, or military involvement.
Grants* are based on financial need and you don’t repay them. They include:
- Pell Grant
- Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG)
- Nebraska State Opportunity Grants
- College-based grants
Work-Study*, also based on financial need, allows you to earn money while attending college. You get paid for hours worked, so don’t expect money up-front to pay tuition. Work-Study earnings will not affect future financial aid eligibility.
Loans* are a type of financial aid you must repay with interest. Some are in your name and some are for parent(s).
Several types of loans are available for both students and parents. View our loan chart for details.
*These types of financial aid are based on FAFSA results.
Step 2: Apply for scholarships
Start searching for scholarships in the spring of your junior or the fall of your senior year. Follow these tips to find scholarships:
- Focus on college-based and local scholarships because you’re more likely to earn them over large national awards.
- Review ScholarshipQuest for local and state scholarships.
- Use scholarship resources in your school counselor’s office or at the EducationQuest location nearest you.
- If an essay is required, follow the instructions carefully. Be clear, concise and understandable, and ask someone else to review it.
- Complete an Activities Resume to keep track of your extracurricular activities.
- Use the College Funding Estimator to estimate your FAFSA results. If you show financial need, keep a copy of the results page and use it when applying for need-based scholarships.
- If needed, request letters of recommendation from teachers, counselors, coaches, and other adults who know you well. Give them plenty of notice, a specific deadline, and a copy of your Activities Resume.
- Use our list of recommended national sites.
Step 3: Create an FSA ID
Both you and a parent will create separate usernames and passwords at fsaid.ed.gov that will serve as your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID for the FAFSA, IRS Data Retrieval, and to apply for student loans. You will each need an email address to create an FSA ID.
Step 4: Complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
The FAFSA is your application for federal, state and college-based financial aid. Complete the form at fafsa.gov. The colleges you list on the application will receive the results and will use that information to award financial aid.
- Apply after October 1 but before the colleges’ priority dates to get the best financial aid package.
- Use IRS Data Retrieval to add your income tax information to the FAFSA.
- Renew the FAFSA every year you’re in college.
- Use these tools to prepare for and complete the FAFSA:
- Colleges use this standard formula to calculate your financial need:
Cost of Education (determined by the college)
– Expected Family Contribution (based on FAFSA results)
= Financial Need
Your “financial need” determines the type and amount of financial aid you will receive.
Step 5: Complete the financial aid process.
- Expect a Student Aid Report (SAR). You’ll receive it via an email link if you provided an email address on your FAFSA. The SAR acknowledges that your FAFSA was received, and if you need to take further action to process your FAFSA.
- The college(s) might request verification of your FAFSA information. If so, send the required documents to the college financial aid office.
- Expect a financial aid award notification from the colleges that accepted you for admission. It will detail the assistance they’re offering based on your financial need. Respond to all award notifications by the deadlines.
- Compare financial aid awards to determine what you would need to spend out-of-pocket or borrow in student and/or parent loans at each school to cover the full cost of your education.
- Once you select a college, notify the other schools of your decision.
- If you need student loans, your college will direct you to StudentLoans.gov to complete the necessary forms. Allow several weeks for processing time.