How do I Pay for College? 

It’s a big question. We’ve got some answers.  

It’s an old adage, but the saying “learn more, earn more” rings true. Research shows us that as a worker’s education levels rises earnings increase. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees with bachelor’s degrees earn $500 more a week on average compared to those with no education beyond high school. 

But to earn a degree, you must first figure out how to pay for college and that can be a daunting task for many students. Attendance at four-year universities in Montana for in-state residents can cost upward of $25,000 per academic year after tuition and fees, room and board, transportation and other associated costs. For out-of-state residents, that annual price tag can be over $48,000.  

Fortunately, there’s a network of scholarships, grants, tuition waivers, loans and other resources that can make college more affordable.  


A good place to start is by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year. Filling out this application qualifies students for some amount of federal aid based on need. Federal aid can come in the form of grants, loans or work study. The amount you could receive is determined by your family’s financial information from the most recent tax year.  

Grants can be thought of as free money, while loans must be paid back, usually with interest. Work study requires you to labor part-time in exchange for financial aid, but employers should work around your schedule as a student first. Work study positions are often be on-campus and includes jobs like working UM events, being a research assistant or serving customers as a Campus Dining venues.  

The FAFSA application opens Oct. 1 annually. Unsure how to fill the application out? Start by checking out UM’s Top Five Tips for Filling Out the FAFSA. Additional is available through UM’s Financial Aid and Financial Education offices, as well as the U.S. Department of Education.  

While the FAFSA typically does a decent job evaluating a family’s financial needs, sometimes important details are missed. This often occurs due to a recent loss of income, medical bills or other financial stressors that aren’t reflected in the financial information the government requests. Don’t worry - you can always fill out an extenuating circumstances form to give a clearer picture of your family’s current financial situation. 

While the FAFSA is a great baseline, there’s many other ways to fund your college degree.  


Scholarships are a great second step. Scholarships are essentially free money that only cost you the time it takes to complete an application. An easy option for UM students is to fill out the Scholarship Portal by March 1 every year. The portal is open to all incoming and continuing UM students and offers one centralized general application, regardless of a student’s major or program of study. Completing this one form will automatically submit your application to the many scholarships available across campus, including department-specific scholarships that are another great option for continuing UM students.  

Don’t forget to seek out other scholarship opportunities from organizations not affiliated with UM, such as businesses, nonprofits, clubs and those offered to qualifying members of tribes. Check out UM’s External Scholarships website to find a few. Make yourself stand out by utilizing the UM Writing and Public Speaking Center to enhance your application.  

Prospective Griz can apply for scholarships through their admission application, and find departmental scholarships or Presidential Leadership Scholarships through a separate application.  


Funding that you never have to pay back – such as grants, scholarships and work study  – are usually the best places to start finding extra money for college, but loans can also be a good idea when done carefully. Just make sure to borrow as little money as possible so that you’re able to comfortably repay it in the future.  

There are many options to consider when taking out a loan. Funding for federal direct loans is provided by the federal government with repayment being made to a federal loan servicer. Funding for federal Perkins loans also is provided by the federal government, but repayment is made to UM.  

UM has several institutional loans with funding provided by private donors and foundations. Repayment on these loans is made to UM. Private student loans are an alternative loan with funding provided by lending institutions in the community. Repayment is made to the respective lender. 

Different loan options come with different interest rates, so make sure you’re choosing the loan that makes the most financial sense for you. 


Parsing all these funding options can feel overwhelming, but UM’s Financial Education Program is here to support you. 

“It can be very confusing,” UM Financial Education Program Interim Director Andrea Janssen says. “Our office is here to help you navigate that side.” 

The office helps prospective, current and past Grizzlies build an effective college payment plan that will set them up for a successful future while minimizing money-related stress. Assistance with other financial questions is provided as well, including personal finances, how credit card cards and scores work, investing basics and more.  

Other UM resources like on-campus housing, the UM Food Pantry, financial counseling, Curry Health Wellness Center and ASUM Bear Necessities are also available to further support students. When you’re working toward your dream degree, financial pressure is the last thing you need. Let us help you lighten the load.