How to get into college for free

By Lauren Freeman - Anchor, Debbie Strauss - Special Projects Producer

HOUSTON - In school districts across our area, it's the spring semester and high school seniors are excited to go off to college, but at home their parents are worried about how to pay for it.

KPRC 2 News is revealing tips for going to college for free and the schools in our area making it happen.

"It's been amazing," said Rice University freshman Reese Rosales about his first year in school. "My experience so far has been more than I could've ever dreamed."

Rosales is studying sports management, has made great friends and even landed an internship with the Houston Rockets. But Rosales knows, his education comes with a price-tag. So while still in high school at Strake Jesuit, he came up with a game plan to pay for it. 

"It started with a conversation that I had with my parents as far as what kind of savings do we have. What do we need to do in preparation for college to be able to make it work," said Rosales.

The game plan: scholarships, scholarships and more scholarships. He received one through the National Honor Society, another one through his church and a third from the Positive Coaching Alliance for his leadership off the basketball court.

While in high school, Reese was a two-time captain of the basketball team, held a leadership position on the National Honor Society and helped found the youth program at St. Anne's.

But what if your child isn't a straight-A student or star athlete? They can still go to college on scholarship, even for free.

There are two types of grants: merit-based and need-based.

If your family earns under a certain amount, your child may be eligible for a free ride.

You need to fill out what's called the FAFSA.

"The FAFSA is the free application for federal student aid," said Ramiro Fonseca, an adviser with Cafe College. "The key is they need to apply. They need to apply early."

According to the College Board, the neediest students are the least likely to apply for financial aid. Only 77 percent of FAFSA eligible four-year college students filled out the forms.

"[Cafe College] is a one stop shop for anyone that wants to pursue their college education," Fonseca said.

At Cafe College on the north side, Fonseca and his staff offer free help filling out the FAFSA.

About $150 billion in grants, work-study funds and loans are available each year. So if your family meets the requirements, you can go for free to schools like:

Also, apply early. The federal funds are first come, first served.

Here's another secret: the National Honor Society is offering free help even if your child isn't a star student. Their new campaign, "Honor Your Future Now," is open to everyone.

"It's focusing on helping people find scholarships. Get the word out about the money that is definitely there and is yours for the taking," said Rosales.

The brand new website offers a scholarship search engine.

You can search by deadlines, ethnicity, major, even scholarship amount, like the "Do Something Awards," which offers a top prize of $100,000, all the way down to a National Guild of Piano Teachers Scholarship worth $50.

"Someone has to receive it, so why can't that be you?" said Rosales.

The website also offers a free parent's college checklist and resources on how to pay for college.

Finally, all colleges and universities are now required to offer a college cost calculator on their website:

2016 Click2Houston/KPRC2