A college education is not free in the United States. However, there are sources of funding that can help pay for it. We will talk about a few options here. Keep in mind that you don’t have to only use one, you can use more than one to make sure all your expenses are taken care of.

Did you know?

You need to figure out what your total estimated cost of attendance is. Many colleges don’t only charge for tuition, there may also be student fees. You must also consider the cost of textbooks and supplies. If you are going to a college outside of the State of Hawaii then you must also consider food, housing, and living expenses. Many universities include an estimated cost of attendance tool on their school website, for example, click HERE to view the estimated cost of attendance for the University of Hawaii at Manoa.


The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the largest source of federal funding for your college education. This is an annual application that must be completed before you start college, and then every year that you require federal student aid. The funding is on a first-come, first-serve basis, which means that the earlier you apply, the better chances you have of getting awarded. There are different priority deadlines depending on the school that you are applying to, so make sure you double check the deadline of the college you want to attend. For example, the priority deadline for Honolulu Community College is March 1st but the priority deadline for the University of Hawaii at Manoa is February 1st.


Click HERE to see the Basic Eligibility Criteria for the FAFSA.

It is an online application that gives you access to 3 types of federal student aid:

  • Federal Grants– this is free money that you do not have to pay back. For example, the Federal Pell Grant is awarded to students who apply for the FAFSA and have financial need (which is determined by how much money you and your parents make).
  • Work Study– this is money that the government gives to your school. You must work on-campus as a student worker to earn the money. For example, if you work at the college library, then the college will have to pay 25% of your wages and the FAFSA pays for the other 75%. This is not unlimited, and many work study positions may limit you to work 20 hours a week for the semester so that your work-study funding amount lasts.
  • Loans– this is money that you must pay back to the government. There are 2 different types of loans from the FAFSA:
    • Subsidized loans- these are loans that do not accrue interest while you are in school. For example, if you accept a $2,000 loan, then you will be expected to pay back $2,000 after you graduate (although not all at the same time, there are repayment options).
    • Unsubsidized loans- these are loans that accrue interest while you are in school. For example, if you take out a $2,000 loan with a 3.73% interest rate, then you must pay back $2,000 plus whatever amount of interest you accumulated after you graduate.


Click here to read why federal student loans are generally better for you than private student loans.

Click here to read about student loan repayment options.

Click here to go to the federal student aid website and view their financial aid tools as well as the FAFSA (see image below).

Did you know? The FAFSA is a government application, and it is FREE (it is called the FREE Application for Federal Student Aid). There are many scam websites that charge you to apply for the FAFSA. If a site asks you to enter your credit card information to apply, DO NOT USE IT.

To use the FAFSA, you must first create a Federal Student Aid ID, or FSA ID. The FSA ID is the username and password that you will use to login to the FAFSA and submit it. To create the FSA ID, you will need your social security number. It will also ask for your personal information such as your date of birth, gender, phone number, and email address.

Once you create the FSA ID, you can start the FAFSA. The most important documentation you need to complete the FAFSA are your and your parents tax returns (tax form 1040). The year of the tax returns changes annually, for example, for the 2022-2023 FAFSA application, it requires your 2020 tax return form information. Click here to see what 7 things you need to complete the FAFSA.


The FAFSA is an interactive application, which means that each question has a help button that you can click to help you understand what the question is asking. You should never fill out the FAFSA by yourself if you do not understand what you need to do. This is because it is a government application, and giving the wrong information, even if it’s by accident, can get you into trouble. Any errors you make will also need to be corrected before your FAFSA can be processed, which will delay the processing and the lengthen the amount of time you must wait for funding. Therefore, go to trusted sources of help to fill out your application such as:

  • Your guidance or college counselor.
  • Parents, siblings, or other family members that have filled out the FAFSA before.
  • The Financial Aid office at the school where you are applying to.
  • Contact the federal student aid help desk here.


Once you submit your FAFSA, you will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR). Your SAR will have a summary of your FAFSA responses as well as your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is how much money your family may be expected to contribute to your college expenses, and this is calculated by how much money your and your parents/guardians make (as shown in your tax returns).

Your completed application will go to the schools that you are interested in attending. The schools will review your application and determine how much (if any) federal student aid to award you. Once your FAFSA is processed, and the schools make their decision, they will tell you. Make sure that you check your email often (the email that you used for your FSA ID), because they will send a notification when the FAFSA is processed.

Usually, the school will put the information about your financial aid award in your student portal. For example, if you applied and were accepted to Hawaii Pacific University (HPU), then you are required to make a My HPU student account. Once you make the account, you can login to your student portal and go to your financial aid webpage. There, you will be able to see what the school awarded you. Some awards are accepted automatically, such as the Federal Pell Grant. This is because the grant is free money that you do not have to pay back, and it goes directly to the school to pay for your tuition. Other awards you must manually accept, such as a federal direct subsidized loan. This is because you are required to sign a loan agreement to promise to pay back the money once you graduate.

Quick tip:  If you are awarded enough grants and scholarships to pay for your cost of attendance, then do not accept any loans. Only accept what you need, because if you can go to school without having to accept any loans, then you won’t have to pay anything back! It might be tempting to accept everything the school offers you, but remember, you will end up paying it all back in the end. You can also accept partial loan amounts instead of the full amount if needed.


Scholarships are free sources of funding for college that you don’t have to pay back (although some private scholarships may require some type of service/commitment after you are awarded). There are many different sources of scholarships that you can look to. Here are some scholarship types:

  • High School scholarships– ask your guidance counselor or college counselor if your high school offers any college scholarships for students. For example, if you are a Farrington High School student, you are eligible to apply for the Farrington High School alumni association scholarships.
  • Employment scholarships– if you have a part time job, ask your employer if they offer any college scholarships. For example, if you work at Disneyland Aulani, you are eligible for their employee tuition assistance program.
  • College specific scholarships– go to the financial aid website of the college you are planning to attend. They may offer some college specific scholarships. For example, University of Hawaii students are eligible to apply for the UH System Common Scholarship Application. Keep in mind that for many college-specific scholarships, you must already be accepted and have a student account before you can apply. Therefore, if you are a first-time college student, apply to the college early. That way, if you are accepted, you can create a student account and start applying for college specific scholarships as soon as possible.
  • Private scholarships– There are many other outside sources of scholarships that you can apply for as well. For example, there is the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship fund (APIA).


Scholarships have different requirements that you must fulfill to be eligible to apply. You don’t want to waste your time applying for a scholarship that you’re not eligible for, so make sure to read the full scholarship description before applying.

Some scholarships are need-based, meaning that if you have a financial need you are more likely to be awarded (for example, if you come from a low-income household. Some need-based scholarships may also ask you to submit a copy of your SAR from your FAFSA as proof of your financial need). Other scholarships are merit-based, meaning they choose the awardees based on their grades in school. Even though there are so many different types of scholarships, most of them require the same basic things, such as letters of recommendation, an essay, and answering some personal questions.

Scholarship Application Best Practices:

  1. Research and apply early- start looking and applying for college scholarships in your junior year of high school. This will give you plenty of time to apply and submit applications before the deadlines. It’s also a good idea to apply early because you will have a better idea of your financial situation and your ability to pay for college earlier rather than later.
  2. Apply for as many as you can- don’t apply to only one scholarship. Apply for as many as you can. This gives you a better chance of being awarded. If you feel like it’s not worth your time, think about it this way: If you spend a good solid 3 hours applying for a $1,500 scholarship and you are awarded, then that’s like getting paid $500 per hour. Do you know anyone who gets paid that much?!
  3. Maintain good relationships with potential recommenders- Most scholarship applications require you to submit one or multiple letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation are how the scholarship committee finds out about the type of student and person you are. They may never meet you, but they need to decide if you deserve the scholarship you are applying for, so they rely on the letters of recommendation to help them make that decision. Some good recommenders include your teachers, counselors, employer, or even people you meet through community service or other extracurricular activities. Many Pacific Islander youth are active church youth group members and can ask church leaders to write letters as well (such as the pastor, deacon, or youth group leader).


The most important thing is to choose people who can speak well about your academic abilities or your personal characteristics. For example, if you are applying for a merit-based scholarship, make sure that one of your recommenders is a teacher that can speak about your academic ability (so ask a teacher that you did well in their class!).


How can you maintain good relationships with these recommenders? Here are some tips:

  • For community members– Stay in touch with them, even if you do not see them often anymore. For example, if you want to ask your pastor for a letter of recommendation, make sure that you are active in church. Volunteer to help with worship services and work with the youth group leaders on church activities. Make sure to keep in touch with the pastor and let them know your plans to apply for college. Community members can write about your personal characteristics and history of community service.
  • For teachers– be an active participant in class. Ask and answer questions during lessons so that they remember who you are. Study and do well in their class. Take the time to share your goals with your teacher, especially if you are interested in working in the same field. For example, if you want to be a nurse in the future, tell your science teacher about it and ask if they know about any health science opportunities in school. Teachers can speak to your academic abilities.
  • For your employer– if you have a part time job, then your boss can be another great recommender. Make sure to introduce yourself to your boss and maintain open communication with them during your employment. Maintain your professional relationship and be a hard worker. Your employer will be able to write about your personal characteristics such as your punctuality, your integrity, and your work ethic.

Quick tip: After someone writes a letter of recommendation for you, write them a personal thank you note. For example, you can send them an email or letter, or give them a call to thank them. This is an easy way to show your appreciation and it can also help to maintain the relationship in case you need to ask them to submit another letter for you.

4) Have someone review your application BEFORE you submit it- You should always double check your application before submitting it to make sure you are not missing anything. It is a really good idea to have someone look at your application before you submit it. This is especially important if your application includes an essay or a personal statement. Your guidance or college counselor is a great person to review your application with. If you have a writing or tutoring center at your school, that is another good resource to use in reviewing your essay. Don’t be afraid to also involve your family, friends, and even community. If you have older siblings or cousins who are strong writers, ask them to read your essays and give you feedback. They might be able to pick up on small mistakes that you missed, or even give you ideas for how to expand your essay.


5) Learn from other scholarship recipients- Many schools or scholarship websites will post testimonials about the students who are awarded their scholarships (e.g., APIA scholar testimonials HERE). You can go to these sites to read the testimonials. They will not only inspire you, but they may give you tips about how those students earned those scholarships that you can use in your own life. If you don’t read these testimonials, then talk to classmates or people you know that were awarded scholarships and ask them what they did. There is a common saying that goes, “You are the people you surround yourself with,” so surround yourself with people who can help you to learn and grow by giving you good advice.