Education Timeline Financial Aid FAFSA
Education Timeline Parent Guide

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?

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 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. 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)

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:



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)

About the Education Timeline: Go Public content producer and parent of two public school students, Trina Pruitt, conceived of the idea out of her own frustrations trying to navigate all the choices and needs for her elementary and high school daughters. 

Go Public’s Education Timeline is the ultimate guide for parents for navigating each step of a student’s academic journey. See below for the featured grade level. Click on each icon to learn more about what to expect and how to prepare.