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Applying for financial aid is the key to getting help with paying for college.
Financial aid includes free money like grants, scholarships and work-study, as well as government loans that you repay. You’re likely to end up with a combination of sources, but you should always maximize all free aid before turning to loans. If you do borrow, choose federal loans before private options.
Financial aid: What's typical?
The type and amount of aid you receive will depend on what you’re eligible for. Here are the average amounts students receive and the portion of annual college costs those amounts typically cover, according to "How America Pays for College," a study released in 2020 by Sallie Mae and market research firm Ipsos.
% of total
Federal parent PLUS loans
Home equity loans or line of credit
Retirement account loans (including 401[k], Roth IRA or other IRA)
Federal student loans, such as direct, Stafford or Perkins loans
Student credit cards
Student other loans
Paid by parents from
Parent current income
College savings funds, such as a 529 plan
Other parent savings or investments
Retirement savings withdrawal (including 401[k], Roth IRA or other IRA)
Paid by student from
Student current income
Other student savings or investments
Scholarships (received from the school or outside organizations or businesses)
Grants (federal, state or school-based)
Relatives or friends (money that doesn't have to be repaid)
The total amount of $30,017 is the average that families spent on an undergraduate education in 2019-20.
To help you navigate the complicated financial aid process, we’ve chosen articles below that address typical questions students have. They’ll even explain the jargon.
» MORE: Is College Worth It?
Start by finding the description that best matches where you are in the financial aid journey.