Paying for College

Guidance for High School Juniors on Paying for College

Families of high school juniors can prepare for college financing by learning about financial aid applications, estimating their SAI, exploring net price calculators, working on their credit, reviewing their budget, applying for scholarships, and saving.
High school junior researching how to pay for college

If you're the parent of a high school junior, you may already be looking ahead to your child's college-going years and thinking about how you'll pay for it. And that's a smart thing to do! Though you can't yet apply for a financial aid or a student loan, there's plenty of prep work you can do now to get yourself familiar with the college-paying process and prepare for what's ahead. We have some action items below to get your started.

Learn about the Financial Aid Applications

You won't be able to apply for financial aid until October 1st of your child's senior year, as that's when the financial aid forms become available, but you can still find out about the financial aid applications so you know what to expect. Note that the FAFSA® will not be available until December 2023 for families completing the 2024-25 application. Every college requires the FAFSA, and about 200 schools across the country also require the CSS Profile®. We have plenty of resources about the FAFSA and CSS Profile, so you can review those to get familiar with the applications. And if you want to really dive deep, you can watch our full-length webinars, Understanding the FAFSA and What to Know about the CSS Profile.

Note: Keep in mind that the FAFSA will be changing significantly for students in college beginning in the 2024-25 academic year, with a process called FAFSA Simplification. We'll be updating families about the changes, so make sure to subscribe to our emails if you haven't already so that you don't miss any important news.

Estimate Your SAI

Once you apply for financial aid, colleges will calculate your Student Aid Index (SAI), a number that is supposed to represent your family's financial strength. Colleges will subtract your SAI from their full annual cost, and the remaining difference will be the amount you're eligible to receive in financial aid. You can estimate your SAI now by using our SAI Calculator.

Explore Net Price Calculators

Every college has a Net Price Calculator somewhere on their website, which you can use to get an estimate of the financial aid you may receive, and the resulting net price you would pay, at that school. The calculation is just an estimate, but it can give you an idea of what you might end up needing to contribute if your child attends. Check each college's financial aid webpage or use the search feature to find the Net Price Calculator on each site.

Work on Your Credit

If your child submits the FAFSA, he or she, regardless of your family's finances, will be granted a $5,500 loan to help pay for freshman year. But if you think you'll need to borrow further to pay for college costs, you'll have to apply for a private loan. Even if your child is the one applying, he or she will need a credit-worthy co-borrower. If you plan to play that role, now's the time to strengthen your credit, as your loan interest rate will likely be determined by your credit score. We have some tips on how to do that in our short video.

Review Your Budget

As college will likely be a significant cost, review your finances now to determine how much you can spare in your monthly budget to pay for it. Most colleges have an interest-free payment plan that allows you to pay the bill over the course of several months, so if you opt to use one of those plans, it will be beneficial to know how much you can put toward it. This will also help your family determine which colleges are financially feasible.

Start Applying for Scholarships

Though some scholarships are only available to high school seniors and current college students, many are open to students in younger grades. Every spring we post a list of scholarship opportunities for elementary and middle school students, and you can also encourage your child to sign up for free scholarship platforms like Fastweb and Unigo and to search online for other opportunities available now. Just be sure that your child never pays a fee to apply for a scholarship.

Save!

Even if you haven't yet saved a dime for college costs, it's not too late to open a college savings account and start contributing to it. Every dollar saved will be one that you don't have to borrow (with interest!) and even a modest amount of savings will help lessen your stress when the college bill comes due. Find out about saving for college on our dedicated page.

As you look ahead to the college payment process, do reach out to us at MEFA if you have any questions. You can contact us via email at collegeplanning@mefa.org and via phone at (800) 449-MEFA (6332).

Learn more about planning for college in high school