Pay For College

College can be affordable regardless of your financial situation. The costs are high, but few students pay full price. You can apply for financial aid, including grants, scholarships, and loans to help meet the costs. There are programs across NYC ready to help you with the financial aid process.

Price Tag 

The total Cost of Attendance (COA) for one year in college includes tuition, housing, food, fees, books, travel, and personal expenses. Thanks to financial aid, hardly anyone pays this “sticker price.” Whether a college is affordable for you will depend on your personal financial aid package for that school. Learn More

Financial Aid Eligibility 

US Citizens, permanent residents, and those with refugee or asylee status can apply for financial aid from the US government, most of which is distributed based on need. Non-government scholarships are available for all types of students, including undocumented immigrants. Some are based on need; others reward academic, athletic or artistic excellence, community service, or other achievements. Learn More

Financial Aid Process 

Applying for financial aid is a process. You need to complete multiple applications (see below), check your email and mail regularly for responses, provide additional information or verification if requested by a college, compare financial aid packages between schools, and make an informed choice about loans. Also, remember: you have to apply every year. Learn More

Financial Aid Applications 

Students eligible for government aid (see above) will need to complete the FAFSA and then the New York State TAP application. Some schools will also require the CSS Profile or other additional information. You may also want to research and apply for scholarships, each of which will have a unique application process. Learn More

Managing Your Money 

College students usually live on a tight budget. To avoid debt, learn how to manage your money. Create a budget and stick to it. Beware of credit cards; they can cost you big time in the long run if you are not careful. Work only if you need to and then only as much as you need to – students who work may find it difficult to complete college on time. Learn More

FAQ

  • Can I really afford college?

    Yes. Public and private colleges can both be affordable, and both offer financial aid. Public colleges are generally less expensive than private colleges. Here are some steps you can take to help ensure you will be able to afford college:

    • Apply for all types of financial aid.  See below for more details!
    • Apply to both public and private colleges to ensure you have a range of cost options.
    • If living at home and going away are options for you, apply to both colleges near home and those farther away so that you have a range of costs.
    • Make sure you know about New York State’s special admissions programs,like the Opportunity Programs (HEOP, EOP, SEEK and CD), CSTEP and others, BEFORE you apply to schools. If you qualify, these programs can sometimes help make college more affordable.
    • Learn about loans so you can make informed decisions about whether and how to borrow money for college.
    • Keep in mind you can attend part-time if you need to work full-time to support yourself or your family. Working through the three-month summer breaks can help you earn and save money during college.
    • Work with the college adviser at your school or at a College Access Program to help you work through your financial options.
  • Private colleges are really expensive, should I even bother applying?

    Yes, keep your options open! Affordability is one factor to consider when you apply to schools, but you will never know which ones will offer you the best financial aid if you don’t even apply. In some cases, you might receive enough aid from a private college to make it cheaper for you than going to a public college. This can be true even when the cost of attendance at the private college is much higher. Focus on finding a college that is a good fit overall — one that meets your academic, career, personal and financial needs.

  • How much does college really cost?

    That is a good question, but the more important question might be how much will you have to pay to attend college? College costs range from around $5,000-$10,000 a year to attend a CUNY college to more than $50,000 per year to attend some private universities. BUT THAT IS BEFORE FINANCIAL AID IS APPLIED. For example, students who receive Pell and TAP grants may be able to attend a CUNY college without taking out loans and only paying out of pocket for books and personal expenses. Even a $50,000 price tag for a selective private college can be reduced, with financial aid, to a gap of $1,000 for you to cover after grants and loans are awarded.

  • What is Cost of Attendance (COA) and how do I find out how much it is for the schools I am considering?

    Cost of Attendance (COA) for one year includes tuition, housing and food (aka room and board), fees, books, travel (to and from campus and to and from home for breaks if going away), and personal expenses. Sometimes the Cost of Attendance is called the “sticker price.” Keep in mind that for high-income families, the sticker price may be very close to the actual price students will pay for college; but, for low- and moderate-income families, students may end up paying thousands of dollars less than the sticker price. There are even cases where students get “full rides,” and need to pay very little towards college expenses.   

    To find a college’s total COA you can look on its website, call the college, or use resources like the College Board search and College Navigator.

  • Why are out-of-state public schools so much more expensive than CUNY and SUNY?

    This is because public colleges provide discounts to residents of their own states. The “in-state” tuition is usually significantly less than the “out-of-state” tuition (the price for students from other states). This is true in New York as well. Students from outside of New York State pay more to attend CUNY and SUNY schools than New York residents.

  • How can I pay for my books?

    If you are eligible for a financial aid refund, you can use it to pay for your books. Some Opportunity Programs and scholarships can also help pay for books. If possible, plan ahead to save money from a summer, part-time or Work-Study job to help pay for books. If you need your books before you get your financial aid refund or have the funds saved up, you can consider renting books, sharing books with classmates, reading books in the library, or copying selections from books you borrow until you can buy your own. If none of these are an option, talk to your professor or academic adviser. Take action: don’t fall behind because you can’t afford your books.

  • Does applying for financial aid affect my chances of being admitted?

    Not usually. You are generally admitted based on your academic performance and the qualities you possess as a student. Some colleges are 100% need-blind in their admissions, whereas others may consider students financial needs as they try to admit a diverse class. Most colleges want diversity and use financial aid to achieve that goal. Applying for financial aid early can help give you the best chance of being admitted with a good aid package because colleges do have a limited amount of funds to award each year.

  • Do I qualify for aid even if I don’t get straight A’s?

    Yes. It's true that many scholarships reward student performance in high school, but most government aid is based on financial need. Remember, if you do receive a merit scholarship, you may need to keep your grades up to renew your aid annually.

  • I’m not sure I can get financial aid because of my immigration status. Who is eligible?

    In order to be eligible for federal financial aid, you must be a US citizen, US permanent resident or eligible non-citizen (refugee or political asylee). It is your status that matters, not that of your parents or other family members. You may be eligible for financial aid regardless of whether your parents have social security numbers (see the FAFSA application question 63 for further details). If you are an undocumented student, you are not eligible for federal financial aid, but you can apply for certain private scholarships, and some private colleges have sources of scholarship funding available. You can find a list of scholarships, the majority of which are accessible to undocumented students, at the Web site for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund: (www.maldef.org/education). The CUNY Citizenship & Immigration Project provides free services at 14 centers located throughout New York City. You can find additional information online: (web.cuny.edu/about/citizenship.html).

  • How do I know how much financial aid I am eligible for?

    When you are accepted to a college, the financial aid office at that college reviews the financial aid applications you completed and determines what types and amounts of financial aid you are eligible to receive. The college then sends you an award letter with an outline of the financial aid it is offering you. It could include grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study. This collection of resources is called your financial aid package.

    From the award letter you should be able to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the amount of money your family is expected to pay towards your education each year you are in school. This step helps determine how much it will cost your family for you to go to college.

    You can estimate your EFC prior to the application process by using the College Board’s EFC calculator: (apps.collegeboard.com/fincalc/efc_status.jsp). EFC factors in anticipated expenses, such as student fees, room/board, books, personal expenses, transportation, and more. There are several considerations in calculating your EFC:

    1. Family income and assets (for parents and/or students);

    2. Family size;

    3. Number of children in the family who attend college;

    4. Unusual circumstances, such as medical expenses.

    When you add up the sources in your financial aid package, you can decide if that college has offered enough financial aid to make it affordable. Sometimes one college won’t offer enough financial aid, and another one will. This is another reason why it’s important to apply to several colleges. If you choose the colleges you apply to carefully, you are more likely to end up with at least one option—and probably more—that is affordable.

  • Is my family’s income too high to qualify for aid?

    Financial aid is intended to make college available to students from many different financial situations. College financial aid officers consider family income, the number of family members in college, medical expenses and many other factors when reviewing your financial aid application. So, even if you think your family income is too high for you to qualify for aid, you should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after January 1. This form determines your eligibility for federal and state student grants, work-study and federal loans. The best way to get an estimate of how much financial aid a college will offer you — and therefore how much you’ll really pay to go to that college — is to use the college’s net price calculator. Most colleges have these tools on their websites. Net price calculators give you an estimate of your net price for a particular college — that is, the cost of attendance minus the gift aid you might get. Learn more about net price.

  • What kinds of financial aid am I eligible for?

    You may be eligible for scholarships, grants, work-study, and loans.

  • Do I have to sign up for the draft in order to get aid?

    If you are a male age 17 ½ or older, you must sign up for the draft in order to get aid.

  • I don’t have a co-signer; am I still eligible for federal loans?

    Yes, you are eligible for federal loans without a co-signer.

  • Is it worth taking out loans for college?

    It can be, but it depends on how much you borrow. Federal loans require that you fill out the FAFSA. Financial aid packages from different colleges include different total loan amounts. You will need to think about how much it is worth borrowing to go to a specific college. It may be that another college will require no loans or a much smaller amount in loans. 

    Not all loans are the same. Learn as much as you can to make a smart choice. A Perkins or Stafford loan subsidized by the federal government might have a much lower interest rate and better terms  that a private loan – meaning that in the end, you will pay a lot less even if you borrow the same amount. Also be sure you understand when you have to start paying the loan back. Some loans require you to start making payments right away while you are in school; others give you up until six months after you graduate to start paying.

    Whenever you borrow money, you have to decide if it is worth it. A college loan can be an excellent investment in your future. Borrowing a little now to earn a lot later can be the best investment you ever make. It’s an investment in you.

  • Can I ask for more Financial Aid?

    You can appeal to colleges for more financial aid. It won’t always produce more aid, but it is usually worth a try. Generally, colleges will consider you for more aid if you give them relevant family financial information they don’t already know through the FAFSA or other forms that indicates you have greater financial need. Before you ask for an appeal or reconsideration, think about the differences between your FAFSA and your actual situation. For example, did your parent lose a job? Did your parents get a divorce in the last year? Do you have significant health care or childcare costs? Colleges may ask you to put your appeal in writing.  Your counselor/adviser can help you draft an appeal letter that you will send to the financial aid officer assigned to you through the college. You can also ask for more aid during a face-to-face visit by sitting with the financial aid officer and explaining your situation. If you have a better package from another school, you should bring that award letter to help the financial aid officer think about how the school can better meet your needs.

  • I received Financial Aid last year. Do I have to apply again?

    Yes, you must submit a new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or a Renewal FAFSA for each new award year. This will also allow you to be considered for the TAP multi-year application process, so students who have received TAP in the previous year may not be required to submit a new electronic TAP application if they renew their FAFSA.

  • When is the FAFSA available?

    It is available January 1st of each year.

  • What is the priority filing deadline?

    The priority filing deadline varies by school but it is best to file by early February.

  • I’ve been “flagged for verification;” what does that mean?

    “Flagged for verification” generally means one or more of your answers on the FAFSA is incorrect, raises questions, or requires further explanation. Some students are also randomly flagged. Verification documents must be submitted to the financial aid office of the schools to which you applied.

  • What happens after I submit my application for financial aid?

    After you submit your FAFSA, it is processed and assessed by the federal government. From there, you will be issued a Student Aid Report (SAR). This report will also be accessible to the schools to which you applied. Each school that accepted you will send you a financial aid package informing you of how much aid it will provide. 

  • How do I determine which financial aid package is better?

    In order to understand which of your financial aid packages is best, you need to add up how much money each school is giving you in grants (such as Pell, TAP, scholarships and other “free” money you do not have to pay back), and how much in loans (Stafford, Perkins, Parent PLUS, etc…). You also need to look at how much of the cost of attendance is covered by your financial aid package. It may not cover the whole amount, which would mean you would have to take out more loans or pay out of pocket as you go to make up the difference. Basically, you want to choose the package that leaves you with the least amount of debt. Try using a financial aid comparison worksheet or talk your school counselor or a college access program in your neighborhood if you are confused.

  • This financial aid package letter is confusing – how much am I responsible for paying?

    The amount you are responsible for paying up front is equal to the total cost of attendance minus the financial aid they offer. This is also referred to as the “gap” amount. Remember, you are also responsible for paying back your loans.

  • When can I expect to get my financial aid award letters?

    You should be receiving your financial aid packages by March or April.

  • When do I have to accept a financial aid package?

    May 1st is the deadline for accepting your financial aid package. By accepting the package, you are making the decision that this is the school you will attend.

  • What financial aid applications do I need to complete?

    If you are a US Citizen, Permanent Resident, or eligible non-citizen (refugee or political asylee), you will need to complete at least two forms, including:

    • FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid (this application is for all federal financial aid, including Pell Grants);
    • TAP: Tuition Assistance Program, a grant for New York State residents to attend an approved college in New York State. You complete the TAP application by clicking on the link at the end of the FAFSA application.
    • You may also have to complete other forms, such as: a CSS Profile, if you are applying to this list of colleges; forms from individual colleges, if required. 
  • What is the FAFSA?

    FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, administered by the federal government. Students must complete the FAFSA before each year of college to be considered for any federal grants or loans. It can be accessed at www.fafsa.ed.gov (be sure to go to this site for the free application, other sites will charge you for it.

  • How do I apply for TAP if I missed the direct link from the FAFSA form?

    You must wait 3 to 4 business days for New York State HESC to receive and process your completed FAFSA information. After those days have passed, you can go to www.tapweb.org to file your TAP application. 

  • What is the TAP Application?

    TAP is the Tuition Assistance Program, which is a New York State grant application administered by HESC. Applying determines your eligibility for the TAP grant, a New York State grant that goes to state residents attending college in New York. The maximum TAP grant amount is $5,000 yearly. It can be accessed at www.tapweb.org

  • What is the CSS PROFILE?

    The CSS Profile, the College Scholarship Service Profile, is a financial aid application used by particular colleges and scholarship programs. It is administered by the College Board. The CSS Profile is used by colleges to determine which students will receive financial support directly from the school. The questions go much more in depth on a student’s and family’s finances. It can be accessed at https://profileonline.collegeboard.org/prf/index.jsp. 

  • I’m undocumented. Should I file financial aid applications?

    Undocumented students should not file the FAFSA or TAP online.

    If an undocumented student is applying to a school that requires the CSS Profile, only after receiving assurance from the school that they will not share information with the government, should the student submit the CSS Profile online.  Please note that the student will not be eligible for fee waivers for the Profile.

    If student is attending CUNY, they might be asked to turn in a paper copy of the FAFSA to their CUNY school to determine financial eligibility for certain programs. Students should feel safe in doing so because all CUNY employees are not allowed to share student’s immigration status with anyone.

  • My parents are separated and I live with my mom. Do I have to provide my dad’s information on my financial aid applications?

    For the FAFSA and TAP applications, they only care about your custodial parent (the parent with whom you spend the most time). So for the FAFSA and TAP, you would not have to include any information about your non-custodial parent (the parent whom you spend less time with). 

    For the CSS Profile, you will have to fill out information about your non-custodial parent and your non-custodial parent will have to fill out the Non Custodial Parent Profile. 

    If you do not have contact with your non custodial parent, you will need to reach out to the financial aid office at each college to discuss your situation. If you can prove you have no contact with the parent, no support was paid or you don't know where s/he is, many colleges will work with you. Some colleges will consider waiving the requirement, but you might have to request a waiver formally in writing or the school might have a special form. Again, you should discuss your situation with the financial aid officer.

  • Who do I put in the parent section of the FAFSA?

    Only the financial information of biological or adoptive parents should go on the FAFSA. If your parents are married, provide information about both parents. If your parent is widowed or single, provide information about that parent. If your parents have divorced or separated, provide information about the parent that you lived with most during the last 12 months. If you did not live with one parent more than the other, provide information about the parent who provided most of your financial support during the last 12 months.

    Note: The following people are NOT considered parents unless they have legally adopted you: grandparents, foster parents, legal guardians, older brothers or sisters, and uncles or aunts.

  • I don't live with my parents and they can’t help me pay for school; why do I need to include their information?

    All students are considered dependent by the federal government unless they can answer yes to one of the following questions:

    • Were you born before January 1, 1989?
    • As of today are you married?
    • At the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, will you be working on a master's or doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, or graduate certificate, etc.)?
    • Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training?
    • Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?
    • Do you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013?
    • Do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2013?
    • At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?
    • As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you an emancipated minor?
    • As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you in legal guardianship?
    • At any time on or after July 1, 2011, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
    • At any time on or after July 1, 2011, did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
    • At any time on or after July 1, 2011, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?

    In the eyes of the federal government, being 18 or older and supporting yourself is not enough to deem you independent for the FAFSA.  Students in this situation are still required to include parental information. 

  • Should I work while I’m attending college?

    Being able to support yourself financially while attending college is a great thing, and for some students a necessity. But remember, successfully completing your academic program is what is most important to your long-term financial stability. If you do have to work, working a moderate amount of hours (10-12 hours) per week is best. You may find that working on your college campus is a good way to manage college costs, get experience, and create new relationships with staff, professors and other students while putting some money in your pockets. If you cannot find a job on your campus you should look near your college or near your home, which will cut down on travel time and make your schedule easier to manage.

  • I don't live with my parents and they can’t help me pay for school; why do I need to include their information?

    All students are considered dependent by the federal government unless they can answer yes to one of the following questions:

    • Were you born before January 1, 1989?
    • As of today are you married?
    • At the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, will you be working on a master's or doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, or graduate certificate, etc.)?
    • Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training?
    • Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?
    • Do you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013?
    • Do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2013?
    • At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?
    • As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you an emancipated minor?
    • As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you in legal guardianship?
    • At any time on or after July 1, 2011, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
    • At any time on or after July 1, 2011, did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
    • At any time on or after July 1, 2011, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?

    In the eyes of the federal government, being 18 or older and supporting yourself is not enough to deem you independent for the FAFSA.  Students in this situation are still required to include parental information. 

  • Do I have to live on a budget? If so, how do I create one?

    Attending college is a huge investment that requires you to be financially smart. Creating and sticking to a budget is always a great way to manage your money. A budget is simply a plan of how you intend to spend the money you have. Budgeting is not only encouraged in college, but also beyond your collegeexperience. Here are some tips that can help you create your own budget:

    1)      List and add up all of your sources of income (such as financial aid, support from family members, income from your job) for one semester

    2)      List and add up all of your expenses for one semester (such as rent, food, bills, clothes, transportation, toiletries, health care costs, money to go out with friends)

    3)      Review your plan. Do you have enough income to cover your expenses with some left over for emergencies or things you haven’t thought of? If not, where can you cut back?

    4)      Stick with your plan.

  • What exactly is work study and how much does it pay?

    Federal Work-Study is a financial aid program that provides paid, part-time employment to eligible students on college campuses to help them cover their college costs. Work-study assignments are either on-campus positions (in the library, cafeteria or computer lab, for example) or off-campus assignments related to community service or a student’s area of study. Hourly rates are at least minimum wage, and the amount you earn cannot be more that your total work-study indicated on your financial aid award letter.

  • What are some things I can do to cut back on my expenses?

    To save money, consider living at home while in school, renting textbooks instead of buying them or purchasing used textbooks, utilizing free campus transportation, taking advantage of all free campus resources such as the library, gym and clinic, and more. Opening up a student bank account can be also beneficial. Additionally, students receive discounts at many local businesses.

  • What is a 529 savings plan?

    A 529 plan allows users to set aside money tax-free to invest toward future college expenses. If you have some time before college, a 529 savings plan may be a good idea for you.

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