Financial Aid: Paying for College for Free

Posted by Lindie Johnson on Dec 29, 2013 3:30:00 PM

As a parent of a high school student, you may believe that there is no free money for college, but this is simply not true. Billions of dollars in federal financial aid and millions more in private scholarships and grants exist to help your student in funding their education. Despite common belief, help is also available for middle-class families.

AdultStudent_000019475677XSmallTypes of Financial Aid

The Types of Financial Aid available include federal and non-federal financial aid.  Federal financial aid comes from the government in the form of grants and loans. Though some families may not qualify for grants (money for college which does not have to be paid back), several types of loans are available to help families afford college. Furthermore, many of these loans have a variety of options including deferral and forbearance in the unexpected event that you have difficulty paying your loans in the future.

Non-federal financial aid can come in the form of grant and scholarship award programs from individual, local and national organizations. Many scholarships are given to individuals who meet specific criteria, such as pursuing a particular academic field of study or going to a specific university. Others may require a service agreement. For example, some hospitals pay for a nursing program in exchange for a commitment of several years of service upon graduation. Financial need is not always a requirement for scholarships.

How to Get Started

Now that we've dispelled the rumor that there is no free money for college, you are likely wondering where to get started. 

  • Apply for the FAFSA ( The first thing that every student should do is complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, for which they'll need their parents' help. The application requires information about income and assets including the student and parents' federal tax returns and income statements. The application can be started and saved for a later date, but can also be completed fairly easily if you have the documents that you'll need available. The FAFSA is also used by some college admission offices to determine eligibility for non-federal scholarships and awards. This form is required to be eligible for federal financial aid. 
  • See if you need to  complete a College Scholarship Services (CSS) profile. The CSS profile records more information than the FAFSA and requires personal and financial information. While the FAFSA is free, the CSS profile costs $25 to complete and send to one college or university. The fee drops to $16 for subsequent schools. You only need to file this form if your schools require it. 
  • Look locally. Many parents say there is no free money for college after being discouraged looking for national scholarships, but again, it's not true. While national scholarships may offer larger awards, the competition is much larger. Start looking at local community and professional organizations in Rhode Island which are committed to the future of other young Rhode Islanders. The pool is smaller and you can win several smaller awards totaling more than one large scholarship. Start your search at the school guidance office and online at
  • Contact the school. If there is a particular school that your student is interested in, don't be shy about contacting the college's financial aid office. Talk to the financial aid officer about your financial situation and aid opportunities available at the school.

As you navigate through the financial aid opportunities available for college, remember that if you hear there is no free money for college, it's simply not true. Furthermore, you are not doing this alone! A bevy of other parents are also looking for these opportunities.

If you are in need of assistance while looking for financial aid, please visit the College Planning Center of Rhode Island. Since 1998, the CPCRI has provided information about financial aid and the college selection process to Rhode Islanders absolutely free of charge.

Topics: Scholarships, College Financial Aid