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The Smart Approach to Paying for College: Free/Cheap/Gap

Going to college is a new and exciting time of life, but it can also be expensive. You may want to consider your housing options, the courses you’ll be taking, and perhaps even how you’ll be paying for textbooks. Navigating the financial aid process can be challenging, but the Free/Cheap/Gap approach can help you figure out the most cost-effective way to pay for college.

The best kind of money is free money because it does not need to be repaid. Examples of free money include scholarship and grant programs. A scholarship is a payment made to an applicant to support the student’s education, and are typically awarded for academics, merit, or some other type of achievement. You can also continue to apply for scholarships even after you’ve arrived at college for ongoing expenses like books, housing, and other costs. A grant, on the other hand, is free money that is typically dispersed to students based on financial need. One of the most popular form of grants are Federal Pell Grants. Applying for scholarships and grants are a great way to get free money for college.

The next step is to look for money to borrow that has affordable repayment terms. Federal student loans are easy to apply for and usually have competitive interest rates. As their name suggests, federal student loans are funded by the federal government, and are available in a few different options, depending on your financial need and enrollment status. A possible alternative to federal student loans is to check with your college’s financial aid office to see if they offer a tuition installment plan. This plan allows you to break up your tuition into multiple payments, and usually carries a reasonable up-front fee with no interest.

Gap money is what you need to make up the difference between what you owe and what you can account for through free and cheap money. Private student loans are one of the easiest ways to cover these costs. Most local banks and credit unions offer student loan support in the form of private loans that often have built-in competitive interest rates and various repayment options. Wherever you are in your higher education journey, student loans can help you get the money you need for school. DCCU has partnered with Sallie Mae to offer a variety of student loan options for both the undergraduate and graduate level.

The Free/Cheap/Gap approach to paying for college is a great way to make sure you have a payment plan for your higher education. As you prepare for college, be sure to stay educated on scholarship and grant opportunities for free money, undertake a federal student loan or set up a payment plan for cheap money, and consider all your options in bridging the gap between what you have and what’s left over. Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a good place to start for both free and cheap money. Paying for college can be an overwhelming experience, but with careful planning and utilization of the options available, you can find the most cost-effective way for you.

This article is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.