After determining what careers and colleges might be the right fit for you, it’s time to learn about ways to pay for college. Follow these steps:

1. Learn how much it costs to attend college.

Colleges break down their costs into these categories:

Tuition & Fees – the amount of money a college charges for the courses you take and for services like computer labs, fitness centers, and career services.
Books & Supplies – you’ll be required to purchase or rent textbooks and/or supplies for most classes.
Room and Board – if you live on campus, the college will charge you to live in a residence hall and for the meals you eat in the cafeteria.

2. Learn about financial aid.

Federal financial aid is money awarded by colleges to help students pay college expenses. You’ll apply for financial aid when you’re a senior by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The results of your FAFSA will determine how much financial aid you’re eligible to receive based on your family’s income and assets.

Some students will show “financial need” which qualifies them for need-based aid. However, students of any income level may qualify for some type of aid, which is why you should complete the FAFSA your senior year – and every year you’re in college.

3. Position yourself to earn scholarships.

While there aren’t many scholarships you can apply for now, there are things you can do to earn scholarships later:

Do well in school – academic scholarships are based on criteria such as your high school GPA, ACT score, and class rank.
Get involved in extracurricular activities – many scholarships are based on involvement in school clubs and community service. Some are based on talents such as music, drama, art or sports.

If you qualify for free or reduced price lunch, you will probably qualify for scholarships (and grants) that are based on financial need.

4. Save!

You can stash away a lot of money over the next 3-4 years to help pay for college. Here’s how:

• Save a portion of money you receive for birthdays and holidays.
Get a part-time job and save half of your earnings.
• Ask your parents about setting up a college savings plan.

A good option is the Nebraska Educational Savings Trust. This 529 Plan will provide tax benefits for your parents and others who invest in your education. Find details at NEST529.com.

Create a budget. This will help you limit the amount of money you spend on snacks and other unnecessary items.