Barbara Phelps

Barbara Phelps

Submitted photo

Every family looks forward to the day when the “big envelope” arrives in the mail announcing an acceptance into their child’s college of choice. After the rounds of congratulations and phone calls to family and friends comes the reality of financing four years of tuition, room, board, books and living expenses. How will you pay for college? Understanding the sources of college funding is an important component of your college plan.

Family College Fund

These are the funds your family has set aside to pay for college. Sources include parent and student savings accounts, gifts from relatives, student income from employment and college savings plans such as a 529 account. For more information, visit

Institutional Merit-Based Scholarships

Colleges and universities award merit-based monies to students as a way to recognize student achievement or talent. Each institution awards these scholarships based on how they choose to build their freshmen class. Some colleges will award more for academic achievement; others will be based on athletic, musical or artistic talents.

Federal, State Financial Aid

Federal and state aid is awarded based on the family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), calculated from a student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), This application takes into account a family’s ability to pay for college based on household income, number of dependents, assets, student independence status, and estimated college costs. Some private colleges will also require a student to complete the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, Compared to the FAFSA, it provides a much more detailed accounting of a family’s financial situation. Based on the results of the FAFSA and/or CSS Profile, a student may be awarded a federal or state grant, which does not have to be repaid, a loan, which does have to be repaid, or a work study, which guarantees a student part-time campus employment.

Outside Private Scholarships

Hundreds of scholarships are available from private organizations for college students. Sources include corporations, religious groups, professional associations, veteran groups and supporters of the arts and athletics. Searching for these scholarships takes time as you must sort through them to determine your eligibility, as well as if you are a truly competitive candidate in comparison to other applicants. Local scholarships from fraternal organizations, women’s groups, etc. are the best way to begin your scholarship search. Your chances of winning a local scholarship are greater due to the reduced number of eligible applicants. Check with your high school guidance office as well as with your parents’ place of business for local scholarship opportunities.

Here are a few national scholarship search engines to also get you started:

Net Price Calculator

Another tool to assist you in determining college costs is the net price calculator, now required by the federal government to be posted on each college website. The calculator uses institutional data to provide an estimate of net price to prospective students and families on an individual basis.

Save your money, plan ahead, and apply to several colleges in order to give yourself plenty of options for admission. Then, in April when all of the financial aid and scholarship packages come in from each institution, you can compare costs and make the best financial and academic choice for your student.

• Barbara Phelps is an independent college consultant and Ahwatukee Foothills resident. She assists students in grades 9-12 with the college planning, search and application process. Reach her at (602) 697-4543, or

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