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Paying for College with FAFSA

Education Timeline San Antonio


(Updated January 17, 2024)

When does FAFSA open?

Applications are NOW OPEN as of January 1st.


  • The new form includes only 36 questions (previously over 100).
  • The site is currently slow as they work out issues.  The DOE suggests to keep trying if you experience problems with the new form, but to keep in mind that there is plenty of time to apply. The due date is June 30th of each year.
  • Sibling discounts will no longer be offered.
  • More lower and moderate-income families will qualify for Pell grants than ever before.

The delay this year is due to the time it takes to roll out changes required by the FAFSA Simplification Act. This law, passed by Congress in 2020, requires the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid to implement changes to the online form and the supporting technology. These changes aim to simplify the overall financial aid application process.

Please read more details about the new FAFSA and what to expect at Forbes and USA Today.

Parents and students can get ready for FAFSA as early as 9th grade (scroll down to learn more).

Paying for College is Possible with FAFSA Financial Aid, Grants, and 529 College Savings

Many families and students ponder how to pay for college, asking questions like “Can we afford college?”, “How does financial aid work?”, “What is a 529?”, or “How much does the military pay for college?”  There are different types of financial aid, student loans, and savings plans. The process may seem complicated but here we break down these topics to help make it easier to understand.

What is Financial Aid?

Financial aid covers the difference between the cost of college and the amount that a student’s family can afford. Most full-time undergraduate students receive some sort of financial aid.  

There are three types of financial aid for college:

  1. Student Loans- Must be repaid
  2. Scholarships/ Grants- Do not have to be repaid
  3. Employment programs/ Work- Study- Allow students to earn wages and gain job experience while enrolled in college courses

What is FAFSA?

What does FAFSA stand for?  The FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and it is the online form that the federal and state governments, colleges, and organizations use to assess and award financial aid. You must submit the FAFSA application in order to access grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and federal student loans.  

When is the FAFSA due? (2)

You can complete the FAFSA form before applying to colleges, and you can submit your FAFSA application beginning on October 1st of each year. (For the 2023-2024 FAFSA, the application process did not open until January 1, 2024.  Find out more about this change here.)

FAFSA Deadline

The FAFSA Deadline is June 30 of each academic year.

States and colleges can also require their own due dates, so check with your high school financial aid administrator.

How to Apply for Financial Aid

Locate the FAFSA online application, create your personal FAFSA ID and account, and then use your FAFSA login information to begin providing your financial information.

After you submit your FAFSA application, you will receive a Student Aid Report or SAR. The SAR summarizes your FAFSA information. Schools listed on your FAFSA application will use this information to determine your eligibility for financial aid. 

College Tuition – Calculating Net Price for College

A student’s college net price is the amount of college tuition and fees minus the college grants, scholarships, and tax benefits for education you receive (college tax credits). The net price is based on your personal circumstances and a particular college’s financial aid policies.

A college net price calculator is a free online tool that gives you a personalized estimate of the net price.

Calculating the net price:

  • Gives you the best idea of what you’ll pay for a particular college
  • Makes comparing colleges easier
  • Widens your choice of colleges

(College Board)

Student Loan Calculator

Try the Federal Student Aid’s online Student Loan Calculator.

Getting Scholarships and Grants for College (1)

The best way to start learning how to get money for college is to fill out the FAFSA! States and colleges use your FAFSA information to award college grants and scholarships.

Pell Grants

Students with high financial need could be eligible for Federal Pell Grants. Pell grants are the most popular federal grants for college given to low-income undergraduate students. Pell Grants do not have to be repaid.

Merit-Based Scholarships

Merit-based scholarships are financial awards given to students based on merit instead of financial need.  They can be awarded for performance in athletics, academics, or extracurriculars. Students can receive merit scholarships for high test scores, essays, GPA averages, sports accomplishments, community leadership, etc. 

ROTC Scholarships

The ROTC, or Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, is an officer training program for college students who legally pledge to serve in the military after college. There are more than 1,700 civilian and military colleges that participate in an ROTC program. (3)

Does ROTC pay for college? 

Students who apply for an ROTC scholarship may receive enough funds to cover the full cost of tuition, fees and textbooks, in addition to a monthly expense stipend. Students who need additional financial aid may seek further aid from the government or private entities.

What is a 529 plan?

A 529 plan is a savings program for future education costs. 529 plans are also known as “qualified tuition plans,” and they consist of two types: prepaid tuition plans and education savings plans. (4)

Prepaid Tuition Plan

This 529 college funds option allows the account holder to purchase credit at participating public, in-state universities for future tuition and fees at current prices for a beneficiary. Most prepaid tuition plans require residency proof for the account holder and/or the beneficiary. 

Education Savings Plan

This 529 savings plan allows the account holder to open an investment account to pay for a beneficiary’s future higher education expenses.  This can include tuition and fees as well as room and board. Education savings plan accounts can be used at any college or university, including some non-U.S. colleges and universities. Education savings plans rarely require residency for the account holder and/or the beneficiary.

529 Plan Texas  

The state of Texas has a variety of prepaid education programs.  Some of the Texas Comptroller Prepaid Higher Education Programs include:

Parents Guide for Financial Aid by Year

Here is a quick glance at what parents can do to prepare for paying for college from a student’s freshman through senior year of high school.

9th Grade
  • Review finances.
  • Obtain a credit score.
  • Discuss financial expectations with your child.
  • Begin looking into financial aid options.
10th Grade
  • Make a list of potential schools.
  • Calculate anticipated costs using the College Board’s net price calculator.
  • Note that 10th grade marks the base year that is used for financial aid.
  • Begin looking into scholarship opportunities.
11th Grade
  • Narrow list of colleges.
  • Find required documents for financial aid and due dates from each school.
  • Continue scholarship research.  
  • Apply for available scholarships.
12th Grade
  • Make a final decision on which schools to apply.
  • Fill out and turn in financial aid applications.
  • FAFSA® Application– US Department of Education
  • Apply for appropriate scholarships.
  • Get your Student Aid Report (SAR)

Sources and Additional Information

How FAFSA Calculates Your EFC – Road2College

What are Merit Based Scholarships & Merit Aid? – Cappex (1)

Parenting College Students –

Federal Pell Grants –

FAFSA Deadlines – US Dept of Education (2)

Introduction to 529 Plans – US Securities and Exchange Commission (4)

ROTC Programs – Today’s Military (3)


Go Public’s Education Timeline is the ultimate parent guide for navigating Pre-K through graduation. The purpose is to help parents know what to expect at each grade level and provide guidance on all that is offered in a public education. A huge benefit of public schools are the resources that support a student. The Education Timeline serves as a compass for navigating those resources. Each phase will also have helpful information, guides, and checklists.

The Timeline was researched and compiled from multiple sources cited throughout each phase. Refer to the timeline graphic below for the featured grade level. Click on each icon to learn more about what to expect and how to prepare.

Go Public content producer and parent of two public school students, Trina Pruitt, developed the Education Timeline to help herself and other parents learn what to expect at each phase of a child’s journey in school.

“The goal is to help parents know what to expect ahead of time so that important steps in the process aren’t missed. I love the fact that my daughters receive a public education. And, by using the Education Timeline, I’m confident that I’m not missing any opportunities along the way."
Tina Pruitt
Content Producer

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