College is extremely beneficial both for the individual and the larger community as a whole, but it is also very expensive. However, there are a few ways that you can decrease the cost of your education. First you can fill out the FAFSA to get some federal aid. If you are going to school in New York State, you can also get aid from the state by filling out the form for TAP. Many schools will also provide financial aid in the form of need-based and merit-based scholarships. Finally, you can take out loans to help support yourself through school.
As you begin to apply to schools keep your eyes on your mailbox and email. Schools will often send you fee waivers that will make it free to apply to the school, saving you 60-80 dollars. If they don't send you fee waivers, you can also email their office to ask if they offer fee waivers. College Board and the ACT also offer fee waivers, and you should talk to your guidance counselor if you think you qualify.
Information on SAT fee waiver: College Board
Information on ACT fee waiver: ACT
The FAFSA can be confusing and time consuming so set aside a chunk of a few hours to do this. Make sure you find somewhere to record you FSA ID and password.
Here is FAFSA's Website with information and the link to start the application: FAFSA
Here is a website that goes step by step in the process and includes a document list of what you will need: Step-by-Step
New York State Aid
Here is the wedsite for NYS Financial Aid for if you are going to be going to a state school: TAP *Generally, applying for TAP can be part of FAFSA. However, you can apply separately as well
If your household gross income is less than $125,000, you may qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship which provides free tuition at CUNY and SUNY schools: Excelsior
If your household gross income is less than $125,000 you may be able to get New York State aid for while you attend a private college in NYS: Enhanced Tuition
If you are in the top 10% of your class and you want to pursue STEM at a college in NYS, you may qualify for the STEM Incentive Program: STEM
Here is an chart filled with all of the scholarships and grants that New York State provides: list
School Based Financial Aid
Each school generally will have their own financial aid office and application for need-based aid. Usually these applications will require the FAFSA and other documents similar to those that the FAFSA requires. Schools will then calculate how much aid will be given to a student based on income and asset status.
Many schools also offer merit based scholarships. These scholarships have applications similar to college apps with essays and activities questions.
A list of some school based scholarships can be found here: College Scholarships. You can also google the schools you're interested and search what merit based scholarships they provide.
After maximizing all aid options, you may find the need to take out loans to pay for college. Here is guide for how to approach this process: Loan Guide
Scholarships are a great way to make college affordable, and they do not have to be paid back. Sometimes they have stipulations to keep up good grades in college, but that should already be a goal for college anyways. Even small scholarships that only provide a few hundred dollars can add up to be extremely helpful, after all. It is a good idea to start looking into scholarships at the end of sophomore year as some have deadlines in junior year. Something that you should especially pay attention to is local scholarships as many of them have none or only a few applicants a year. Hence, if you apply you have a pretty good chance of getting one.
Here is a database of scholarships for college: Niche
Another database of scholarships with advice for applying as well: Scholarships.com
Another database: Discover
And another database of scholarships: Career OneStop
Community foundations provides a great database and matching system for scholarships in the area that you qualify for: Community Foundations
Here is a spreadsheet with other local scholarships.