College Smarts: Paying for School

Whether your child is eight or eighteen, college is fast approaching. FAFSA, financial aid, work-study ― what does it all mean, and how can you prepare for it? It’s not as complicated as it sounds (we promise!). Whether your child is heading off to college in one year or ten, we’ve broken down the basics so you’ll know what to expect.

What is financial aid?

Students often receive financial aid from a variety of sources, including their college or trade school of choice, the state or federal government, and private organizations. 

There are four main types of financial aid: loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study.

Loans are taken out for a certain amount of money and must be repaid with interest. Students often take out loans from the federal government, their college, or a local bank or credit union.

Grants, unlike loans, do not usually need to be repaid. Several well-known federal grants include Pell Grants, FSEOG Grants, and TEACH Grants. 

Work-study, a federally funded program, provides students with part-time jobs to cover the cost of tuition or miscellaneous expenses. Ranging from tutoring to tech support, work-study jobs offer students a structured environment and valuable work experience.

What is the FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a form that determines college students’ eligibility for financial assistance from the federal government. The FAFSA is free, and must be filled out before the start of each academic year if you or your child are seeking financial aid. Most colleges use the FAFSA to determine students’ financial situations, including how much financial aid they will receive.

What about scholarships?

Incoming students often receive athletic scholarships contingent on their participation in collegiate athletics, or academic scholarships awarded in recognition of their high school GPA. Extracurricular scholarships, for participation in activities like band or choir, are also awarded to incoming freshmen or transfer students. Community foundations, businesses, and other organizations often offer scholarships opportunities, which are awarded based on a student’s chosen major, extracurricular involvement, or financial need.

Many local scholarship sources, such as the Black Hills Area Community Foundation, designate scholarships by region and high school. For example, the Deerfield Scholarship, a $1,500 renewable scholarship, is awarded to a senior from Hill City High School. Similarly, the Jamie Zepp Memorial Scholarship is awarded annually to a graduating senior from Rapid City Central High School. Other scholarships, such as The Joyce Bedingfield Memorial Nursing Scholarship, are awarded based on students’ field of interest.

While there are many local resources available to Black Hills families, college-bound students can also search for scholarships on websites like Unigo,, The College Board, and Fastweb.

Looking for ways to save up as a family? Check out our tips on saving for college!