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Top 5 Ways to Pay for College: College Financial Aid, Explained

Still figuring out how to pay for college? From university scholarships to federal loan programs, here are the most common types of financial aid for undergraduate students.

Students walking outside of SLU's Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building

1. Apply for a Scholarship

Scholarships are typically merit-based. They consider your grades, talent or service. Best of all, you don't have to pay them back.

Explore SLU Scholarships

2. Apply for a College Grant

College grants are need-based, and like scholarships, grants don't have to be repaid. So what's the difference between a grant and scholarship? College grants for undergraduates are provided by nonprofit organizations — often the federal and state governments — and are often tax-exempt.

The Federal Pell Grant is the most common at Saint Louis University. It offers undergraduate students a maximum of $6,895 in 2022-2023. What other grants are available? The Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) is for undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. In Missouri, look into the Access Missouri Grant. And at Saint Louis University, grants are awarded annually to full-time students with financial need through grant programs through the SLU Grant.

3. College Work Study

Work study is a form of federal financial aid that allows undergraduates to earn money for college through a part-time job on campus. Students get a biweekly paycheck working an average of 15 hours a week. At SLU, students can start applying for work study jobs as soon as June 1.

Learn More About Work Study

4. Federal Student Loans

The bad news: federal student loans have to be repaid. But you don't have to begin immediately after you graduate college, and most student loans are low-interest. The Perkins Loan and the subsidized Direct Loan, offered by the federal government, are the best student loans for undergraduates, followed by the unsubsidized Federal Direct Loan.

5. Private Student Loans

Private student loans are not federally funded and often have variable interest rates that aren't capped. Translation: Explore other college financial aid options first. If you do pursue this route, look into a Parent PLUS loan or an alternative loan in your own name. Remember to spend wisely. To determine how much you can afford borrow for college, visit

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