How to Pay & Plan for College

Learn more about the different ways to plan and pay for a higher degree.


How to Pay for College

The four-year cost of attending an undergraduate school, including tuition and living expenses, is estimated at $97,0611 to $191,0902, according to the College Board's College Cost Calculator. The takeaway? College is very expensive and deciding how to pay for college may be one of the biggest financial decisions you'll ever make.

So what are your options to pay for school? There are many forms of funding available, including scholarships, grants, federal student loans and private student loans. The good news is that many students get "free" aid that doesn't need to be paid back, like a federal grant. The bad news is that if students aren't smart about managing their student loans, they can end up spending thousands more on interest than they'd planned on.

However, if you borrow responsibly, a loan can be a sound option to pay for college, helping you move your education, career and life forward.

Average Cost of a College Degree3

Average Cost of a College Degree

Did You Know?

A degree is still a good value. A worker with a bachelor’s degree makes approximately $25,0004 more a year than a high school grad — $1 million more over a lifetime5.


How to Plan for College

At the root of every good plan are clear and timely objectives. Here’s a quick summary of how to plan and prepare for college6:

Step When What To Do

1. Narrow your academic and career interests

Junior Year
  • Think about "what you want to be" (nurse, doctor, teacher, lawyer, etc.)
  • Take the PSAT

2. Take admission tests & make your college list

Junior Year
  • Take the SAT and/or ACT
  • Make a list of colleges you're interested in and get applications
  • Research scholarships

3. Complete the FAFSA & apply to schools

Senior Year
  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
  • Apply to schools
  • Apply for scholarships

4. Review aid Award Letter(s) & choose school

Senior Year
  • Review school aid award letters
  • Determine if you need to take out a federal student loan
  • Choose the school you want to attend
  • Consider summer internships

5. Fill aid gaps & get ready for school

Senior Year
  • If you need extra funding sources, review options like private student loans
  • Get ready to leave for college

Important Information

Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. View and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans.

Union Federal is a federally registered trademark of Cognition Financial Corporation used by SunTrust Bank under license. The Union Federal Private Student Loan is funded by SunTrust Bank and is not offered in connection with any other lender or the federal government. Cognition Financial Corporation is not an affiliate of SunTrust Bank.

Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue these programs without notice. These loan programs are subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.

1  Source: calculated using The College Board’s College Cost Calculator on 11/9/17; assumptions: annual college costs, in today’s dollars, of an average 4-year public in-state school, 5% college cost inflation rate, 4 expected years of attendance 1% of costs to cover from savings and 1 year until college.

2  Source: calculated using The College Board’s College Cost Calculator on 11/9/17; assumptions: annual college costs, in today’s dollars, of an average 4-year private school, 5% college cost inflation rate, 4 expected years of attendance 1% of costs to cover from savings and 1 year until college.

3  Source: College Board: Average Published Undergraduate Charges by Sector and Carnegie Classification, 2017-18; assumptions: 4 expected years of attendance including tuition, fees and room and board at a Four-Year In-State school, Public Four-Year Out-of-State School and Private Nonprofit Four-Year school.

4  Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Unemployment rates and earnings by educational attainment, 2016; amount derived using the annualized difference between 2016 median usual weekly earnings for a worker with a Bachelor’s degree and high school degree.

5  Earning $1 million more over a lifetime assumes the worker works for 40 years or more.

6  Source: Excerpted from the Checklists for Academic and Financial Preparation; U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid Office.

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