Paying for College: Seven Tips for Funding Your Education

By Zelotes Smith, MS, Director of Financial Aid Subscribe to RSS Feed

“How am I going to afford college?” or "How do I pay for college on my own?" Throughout my career, I have heard these types of questions more times than I can count. My response is usually pretty standard, “How determined are you to get a college education?”  It may seem like a challenging process, but it's absolutely possible. In fact, 99 percent of Dominican's 2019 incoming first-year class received some form of financial assistance. I encourage you to take your time, do your research and ask for help.  

I have had the pleasure of helping students from all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds pay for their education. The best part of my job though, is seeing those that we help fund their education so that they're able to successfully graduate. I had a student stop by my office once to thank me for all of my hard work and assistance and to let me know they were graduating that weekend. I got a bit emotional, smiled and told the student, “Congratulations!” Then I remembered, this is why I do what I do

A college degree is worth the time, effort, money spent and investment made to obtain it. Based on my experience, here are advice and tips on how you can fund your college education. 

  1.  Find the right college.
    Start your search early about the type of institution you want to attend. Do you want to be in a class with 200 other students or do you want your instructor to know you by name? Do you want to attend college in a large city or do you prefer the small town life? Do you want a small institution, such as Dominican University of California that offers highly engaging services such as Integrative Coaching? This process could take some time, so start your search as early as freshman year of high school, if possible. Choosing the right college for you and your family will determine how much money you spend and the length of your academic career.

  2. Start saving early.
    You know that babysitting job you had in middle school or that summer you worked for your parent’s friend who owned a business? Put at least 10 percent of those earnings in an interest-bearing bank account and add to it as you continue to work. When you are ready to attend college, you can use some of those funds to help pay for college, or at least purchase some textbooks.

  3. Complete the FAFSA as soon as it becomes available.
    The FAFSA application for the upcoming school year becomes available for completion on October 1 of the previous year. The FAFSA can be completed using the myFederalStudentAid app. Many states have varying deadlines for FAFSA filing. If you live in California, the FAFSA filing deadline is March 2 to be considered for Cal Grant. Also, some institutions award their institutional aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. The earlier your application is completed, the better your chances are of receiving the best aid package.

  4. Apply for Institutional Scholarships/Grants.
    If you have the opportunity to visit any of the institutions that you are thinking about attending, inquire about making an appointment to meet with the department of your chosen major. For example, schools may offer an academic scholarship/grant to students who meet certain GPA criteria. Do some research on the institutions you are thinking of attending and see what kind of grants and scholarships are available.

  5. Ask your relatives, friends of your parents, local organizations, etc. for assistance.
    The worst that they can say is “No”, right? Share your plans for attending college, your chosen major, what you plan to do with your degree, and any other information that you feel is important. Provide your Venmo, CashApp, Zelle, etc. Sororities, fraternities, and other local organizations may also provide scholarships to well-deserving students. You never know, you may receive enough funding to pay for college.

  6. Ask your financial aid office about the Federal Work-Study program.
    The Federal Work-Study program is designed to help students pay for and attend college. You, the student, will work either on-campus or at an off-campus partner and receive a regular paycheck for hours worked. You will gain valuable experience and begin to develop a work ethic that you can carry into your chosen career. The best part is that, since you are a student first, your job is willing and able to work around your school schedule!

  7.  If needed, borrow federal student loans. 
    Federal student loans are low-interest loans awarded to students from the Department of Education. Students are allowed to borrow a maximum amount for each award year and the amount will increase as you progress through college. Federal Loans come with perks, such as forbearance options, deferment options, and low interest rates. More information about Federal Loans can be found on The best part about federal student loans is there is not an application process or credit check! The FAFSA application is all that needs to be completed in order to be considered for federal student loans.*

Attending college is affordable and achievable. It is never too early to begin planning for college!

*Please note — you must meet the federal eligibility requirements to complete the FAFSA application to be considered for federal student loans. 

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