The process of choosing the colleges that make it to the final list can take months and involves researching topics like degree offerings, faculty research, location, extracurricular opportunities, athletic offerings, and more. For many families, it also includes understanding the cost of the educational experience. The costs of a college education typically includes tuition and fees, along with optional services like room, board, health insurance, tuition insurance, and more. 

As a college counselor, I encourage every student and family I work with to understand the cost of the college education for each school they are considering. If they have expressed a need for financial aid (whether it be merit-based or need-based aid), students and families should utilize the “Net Price Calculator” that many colleges provide prospective students to estimate the total out-of-pocket costs associated with paying for their education. 

Once a final college list has been determined, it is important to be familiar with and understand the different forms of financial aid available to students along with where to begin the process of seeking the various aid options. 

Merit-based Aid: Typically comes in the form of grants and scholarships (commonly referred to as “free money”) that students can earn through their academic achievement, talents, or particular area of study. 

Need-based Aid: This is financial assistance based on a students or family’s ability to pay for the student’s college education. Aid is typically provided in the form of grants, scholarship, work-study, and loans. Determination for need-based aid is usually gathered in two ways: 

Work-Study:  The Federal Work-Study Program includes part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with demonstrated financial needs. This program allows students to earn money to help pay education expenses typically through on-campus jobs including community service work and work related to the student’s course of study. 

Private Scholarships: Each year, hundreds of millions of dollars are available through private business, corporations, foundations, and organizations to support students interested in earning money to help pay for their education. Scholarships are often provided to students with either demonstrated need or for merit purposes or both. The amounts can range from a $100 to full-tuition scholarships. To learn more about different opportunities visit: 

To learn more about how to find and navigate the financial aid process or how to develop a well-rounded college list, please do not hesitate to connect with me at to schedule a complimentary initial call.