Paying for college can seem scary; but thanks to the many financial assistance options out there, it can be an obtainable and affordable for everyone. There are two kinds of financial aid to consider, and a lot of students need a combination of both to cover all of their financial needs:

Gift Aid

This kind of financial aid does not need to be repaid by the recipient.

Examples of this aid include grants and scholarships.

Self-help aid

This kind of financial assistance must be earned or repaid by the recipient.

Examples of this aid include work-study and loans.

How much gift and self-help aid you receive is determined by the FAFSA, a free tool that breaks down your mix of financial aid options based on the information you share about yourself and your family. The process can feel confusing if you’ve never done it before, but here are some frequently asked questions that can help you get started:

Let’s break down each example of financial aid you may apply for and how they work:

Grants & Scholarships

How it's awarded

Based on financial need, merit or a combination of the two.

who it comes from

The federal government, state government, private organizations (businesses, religious organizations or civic groups) or your chosen college.

Does not need to be repaid

of college students receive this aid.
Pell Grant, HOPE Scholarship, Tennessee Promise and Scarlett Family Foundation Scholarship are all examples of this type of aid.


How it's awarded

Earned by working a set number of hours a week. Students work to earn the aid in the form of a paycheck.

who it comes from

Awarded from the college’s financial aid office based on need.

Does not need to be repaid once money is earned

of college students receive this aid.
Students may not receive the aid if they do not find a work-study placement or are not able to complete the necessary hours.


how it's awarded

Based on financial need that remains after other aid is taken into account.

who it comes from

Awarded by the federal government or occasionally by private banks and colleges.

Must be repaid with interest

of college students receive this aid.
Generally, federal student loans have lower interest rates and more generous repayment options than private loans.


Many students use loans as part of their financial aid mix to pay for school. There are three types of federal loans available to students:

Subsidized loans: Do not incur interest while student is enrolled.

Unsubsidized loans: Do incur interest while student is enrolled.

Parent PLUS loans: Parents can take out loans to help with their child’s college expenses. Must meet specific credit requirements.

Explore loan options
Want more info about scholarships? Check out these tips on applying for scholarships.
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Other Ways to Pay for College
You don’t have to rely on financial aid alone. There are also other tools and resources to make paying for college easier:

College Savings Account

Parents of students can open tax-advantaged savings accounts that accrue money for college. An example of this is Tennessee Stars.

Payment Plans

Colleges can work with students and their families to create a monthly payment plan, rather than paying tuition in full at the beginning of the semester.
smiling student sitting
Maximize Your Money for College

It is never too early to think about how to pay for college. Here are a few things you can start doing in middle or high school to make sure you can get awarded the most financial assistance possible.

Maintain good grades and take harder classes starting in middle school to qualify for grants and scholarships.

Take the ACT at least twice to potentially qualify for grants and scholarships.

During your senior year, fill out the FAFSA (if eligible) soon after Oct. 1.

Apply to more than one school to compare financial aid packages.

If you are applying to a four-year college, submit your application before Nov. 1 to be considered for grants and scholarships.

Financial Aid for Non-U.S. Citizens

Students with certain types of visas, without documentation or federally recognized DACA students may be considered international students and could potentially be charged out-of-state tuition.

There are programs and scholarships that help students understand the college application process and assist with tuition payments. Some local organizations and programs include Equal Chance for Education, YMCA Latino Achievers and Escalera at Conexión Américas.