Undergraduates: Student Loans & Degrees

You may be academically ready for college, but are you financially ready?

Whether you’re going off to college for the first time or heading back for another year, there are some steps to take to get ready. One of the most important of these steps is determining how much you need to pay for college and then applying for grants, scholarships and loans to cover those costs. To qualify for federal aid, you must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) every school year. It’s the main way students apply for grants and loans. In addition to federal aid, you should look at as many additional college funding sources as possible; the more free options like scholarships you have, the less borrowing and student loan debt you’ll have.

Here are some of the key steps high school students and returning college students should take for the new academic year.


Ask yourself what you want to do for a living. 

During college, you’ll start moving down a career path by taking courses in your major – but even before that, in high school, getting an idea about what you’d like to do for a career can be help you manage your student loan debt.

Why considering your career is important:

  • If you’re getting a college education to get a job that has low unemployment and a high salary, like a medical doctor, then you’ll be in a much better position to pay off a high student loan debt down the road. Just make sure you can cover the loan repayment costs while you’re in school or that you have the option for deferment. However, if you want to get a degree in a field that is rewarding but offers only modest compensation, you might have a hard time paying off a large student loan debt.
  • If you struggle to pay your student loans, it can impact your ability to achieve other financial goals like buying a home, having children, or setting aside money for retirement.
  • Talk with a guidance counselor, financial aid officer and your parents about your interests and try to narrow down your career choices as much as you can.
  • If you can, get high school internships in the field(s) you are interested in to "try before you buy" and see how you like it.
A Major Difference:
Some Majors Bring Higher Salaries Right Out of School
Bachelor's Degree Class of 2016 Median Starting Salary1

Computer and Information Sciences
& Support Services




Mathematics and Statistics


Management, Marketing & Support Services


Health Professions


Liberal Arts and Humanities


Social Sciences




Journalism & Related Programs


Visual and Performing Arts




From the table, a recent English or Visual & Performing Arts graduate might have just enough take home pay to afford living expenses and not enough to make a student loan payment. This is not to suggest that a student should select a major based on earning potential alone – doing a job that one loves is also important. However, students should be aware that the job you train for in school can affect your income, and you should consider that carefully before you take out a loan. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t finance the major of your choice, but after school, you may have to find ways to cut expenses to make your loan payments, like getting a roommate, for example.


Be aware of the schedule for applying for school and financial aid. 

If you’re already in school, just make sure to reapply for financial aid.

High School Senior Year (Fall)
Financial Aid Action Item What To Do/Expect
Research schools
  • Come up with a list of schools where you'd like to apply. You can include them in your FAFSA, and they will automatically get your aid report.
  • For an early idea of the aid you may receive try the FAFSA4caster—the federal government’s calculator that provides an estimate of federal student aid eligibility.
Apply to schools
  • Fill out your application to the colleges of your choice.
High School Senior Year and Undergrad Years (Fall)
Financial Aid Action Item What To Do/Expect
October 1 — Look for the FAFSA to be released
  • Complete the FAFSA online in about 30 min. Both student and parent may need to work on it and each will require their own FSA ID.
  • Important note on timing: It is highly recommended you complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after its October 1 release. Some schools have early admission programs you might wish to take advantage of. The FAFSA is used by all colleges to determine your eligibility for federal, state and institutional aid, including loans.
  • Shortly after you complete the FAFSA, you will get a Student Aid Report (SAR) that tells you about your aid profile, such as your Expected Family Contribution, which is used to determine your eligibility for federal aid. Review the information in your SAR carefully to make sure it’s correct and complete.
High School Senior Year and Undergrad Years (Spring)
Financial Aid Action Item What To Do/Expect
April 1 or earlier, typically — Receive school application decisions
  • Find out which schools you've been accepted to.
May 1 or earlier — Receive your financial aid award letters
  • Compare aid offers from the schools to which you are accepted to determine which you can afford and whether you will need additional money, such as a private student loan.
Select your school.
  • Each school's financial aid office will determine your financial need to attend their school and send you an award letter. Your award letter may contain aid from grants, scholarships, work study, institutional aid or loans.
Review each aid award letter.
  • Review award letter(s) carefully to determine what is best for you. You can accept or decline any part of the award letter.
Notify your selected school's financial aid office if you agree with the financial aid award you were offered.
  • If you’ve received all of the college funding you can find and you still need more money, a SunTrust private student loan that can help. Private student loans, sometimes referred to as alternative loans, can help with college related costs including miscellaneous expenses such as a computer, transportation, housing, etc.



Frequently Asked Questions

Where do I start?

Before you start looking into loans, you should search for scholarships and grants. A good place to start is your school's financial aid office. They can provide you information about grants, scholarships and federal student loans.

I've heard there's scholarship money out there. How do I find it?

For starters, SunTrust offers the Off To College Scholarship Sweepstakes — enter every two weeks for a chance to win (no purchase necessary, terms apply). In addition, check out our Scholarships page to help you search for additional scholarship and grant money.

My parents make decent money. Can I still get financial aid?

Yes, there are a lot of things in addition to income that determine if you can get financial aid, especially scholarships. There are also a number of loans for families of all income levels. Learn more about federal financial aid.

How do I figure out how much I'll need for college?

The best place to start is your school's financial aid office. Tuition and fees are not the only costs for attending college. The financial aid office can provide you with estimates for costs such as housing, books, food and transportation. Once you know the total of all these costs, you need to determine how much your family can provide to you in the way of financial support. The difference between the total cost and your family's resources, will give you a good idea of what you need to pay for college.

What are my borrowing choices for college?

There are basically two different types of loans people use to pay for college: federal student loans and private student loans. Federal student loans include Stafford loans for students and PLUS loans for parents and graduate students. Federal student loans are offered by the U. S. Department of Education through the Direct Loan Program. If federal student loans, scholarships, and grants don't cover the cost of college, consider a SunTrust private student loan.

What exactly is "financial aid"? Is it the same thing as a scholarship?

Financial aid can include grants, scholarships, work-study programs and Federal Direct loans. Scholarships, grants and work-study programs are financial resources that do not have to be repaid. Loans, whether they are federal student loans or private student loans, must be repaid.

If I'm awarded financial aid, how do I get the money?

That really varies from college to college. In most cases, the money is sent directly to the financial aid office at your college at the start of an academic term. You should check with your college's financial aid office for details on this process.

When should I start talking to the financial aid department of the college I'll be going to?

The financial aid department of any college is a great resource for answers to your questions. Unless you have specific concerns or circumstances, you may not need to call until after your FAFSA has been submitted.

I already sent in my FAFSA, and my family's finances have just changed. What do I do?

Don't send in another FAFSA. Wait until you get your Student Aid Report (SAR). Then contact your college's financial aid office for assistance on how to address this change.

Do I have to apply for my financial aid every year?

Yes, you'll have to submit a FAFSA every year and you may have to complete a financial aid application specific to your college. For private student loans, you do need to reapply every year.

A SunTrust student loan can cover college expenses such as tuition, books, fees, transportation, housing, and more.


Learn More

Are you researching scholarships, loans and other ways to pay for college? Find the information you need right here.


Learn More

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. Start Student Loan is a trademark of Cognition Financial Corporation. Both are used by SunTrust under license. Truist Financial Corporation (“SunTrust now Truist” or “Lender”) is the lender of these private student loans and they are not offered in connection with any other lender or the federal government. Cognition Financial Corporation is not an affiliate of Lender.

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

©2010 fafsa.gov. FAFSA is a trademark of the U.S. Department of Education.

1  Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers, Spring 2017 Spring Salary Survey.

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With four loan options to choose from and recently reduced interest rates, SunTrust has you covered this semester.

Did you know?

Right out of college, some undergraduate degrees, like engineering, draw nearly twice the salary of others.1


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