How to Create A Plan to Pay for College

When paying for college comes up, advisors often focus on the what instead of the how. You may be aware there are options like scholarships, loans, and college savings accounts, but how do you pick the best option for you? And what is the difference between a federal and private loan? These are perfectly normal questions to have but can make the difference in affording your dream school. In this article, we will review how to lay out the full cost of college, define some of the most common scholarship and loan options, and help you create a plan to pay for college that works for you.

If you have questions about Multnomah’s financial aid options, call or text our Financial Aid department anytime at (503) 251-5335.


Lay Out the Full Cost

The first step in creating a plan to pay for college is to estimate the total cost to attend. To do this, you’ll want to first:

If you have questions during these steps, feel free to call or text Multnomah’s Admissions team at (503) 251-6485. We can point you in the right direction!

Once you are accepted and have filled out the FAFSA, the school’s financial aid department should be able to give you a rough estimate of your:

  • Tuition and Fees: Typically, Tuition refers to the base cost of attending college, and Fees refer to the specific expenses associated with the classes and degree you pick.
  • Room and Board: This usually refers to living expenses such as the cost of student housing and the college’s meal plan.

Other expenses that the financial aid department can help you calculate might include:

  • Books and supplies
  • Personal expenses
  • Transportation

Laying out the full cost can help prevent unforeseen expenses. While cost can vary semester to semester, creating a general budget will help you better prepare to pay for all four-plus years of your education. Once you’ve calculated a realistic budget sheet, it’s time to create a plan to pay for your education!

Determine Where the Money is Coming From


If the price tag on your cost budget sheet has caught you by surprise, don’t panic! There are numerous scholarship opportunities in the US. Your high school counselor and college financial aid advisor can help you find options.

“When it comes to finding and applying for scholarships, start small. Look through your local community, church, veteran’s benefits, parent’s/your place of employment, and organizations you are associated with. You might be surprised by what is available right around you!”

– Deborah Rezene, Director of Financial Aid


Multnomah’s financial aid department has also researched and formed a list of options through the school and private scholarship opportunities. Check out our scholarship resource here! You can also check out for even more scholarship opportunities.

Savings Accounts

There are several College savings account options, and it’s never too early to start setting aside money for college. Knowing your options is helpful if you’re the saver or the recipient. Having some basic information about the different savings plans can assist in open conversations with your parents or whoever might help you pay for college. Here are some of the most common options:

  • 529 Plan: a type of investment account specifically designed for paying for higher education. You can use these to save for a family member or yourself. 529s are popular because they offer tax benefits.
  • Education Savings Account (ESA): This is another option that offers tax advantages. ESAs, also referred to as Coverdell accounts, can help pay for education from kindergarten through college.
  • Roth IRA: Though not typically thought of as a college savings account, this is another option to pay for your education that offers tax benefits. Roth IRAs are most commonly associated with retirement savings but can still be an appealing option to save money for college.
  • Custodial Account: Custodial accounts are unique because control of the account typically transfers to the intended recipient once they reach legal age (age depends on state).

If you want to start saving for college, speak with a financial advisor about your options! Knowing the most common terms can help make the process of paying for college feel less intimidating.


Some are surprised to learn that grants function similarly to scholarships, meaning they generally don’t need to be paid back by the student. Grants can be received from your federal or state government, college, or nonprofit or private organization. According to the Federal Student Aid (FSA) Office, grants offered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) include:

  •  Pell Grants
  •  Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants

Filling out the FAFSA establishes your financial need and will determine if you are eligible for state and institutional grants in addition to federal grants. You can also research merit-based grants in your home state that you can apply for.


Applying for Loans

It is important to teach the different kinds of loans available to students and others paying for their education. To get you started, we’ve broken down the difference between a federal and private student loan.


Federal Loans

  • Federal loans make up roughly 92% of all student loans (Forbes)
  • Student and parent federal loans are funded by the federal government
  • They can include benefits like income-driven repayment plans and fixed interest rates
  • Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized Loans:
    • Direct subsidized loans are determined based on a student’s financial need, and you do not have to pay interest.
    • Students do not have to show financial need to qualify for unsubsidized loans, but interest accrues. These loans are not only available to undergraduate students but also to graduate and professional degree students.

Private Loans

  • Private student loans are funded by a lender, like a bank, credit union, a state agency, or a school
  • The lender sets the terms and conditions of the loan
  • Generally considered after you’ve already explored your options for scholarships, grants, and federal student loans

Two of the most important steps to determine the right loan option are to fill out the FAFSA and meet with your school’s financial aid department. Check out our 8 Ways to Afford Private College article to learn about completing the FAFSA.

Revisit Your Plan Every Semester

Once you have created a budget and determined your financial source to pay for college, the last step is to revisit your plan each semester. Costs such as class fees, housing, and personal fees can change on a semesterly basis. A good time to meet with Financial Aid and revisit your plan is right after you register for the next semester’s classes.

If you take only two things away from this article, they should be to…

  1. Plan ahead, and
  2. Meet with your financial aid department regularly

Multnomah’s advisors want to help! We never want cost to be the deterrent between you and biblically-based college education.

Visit to see our office hours and book an appointment today.