How Do I Pay for College in Hawai’i? Here are 4 Ways to Afford Your Education

Do you want to go to college, but not think you or your family can afford it?

Teachers and counselors say the word “scholarships,” but often leave Big Island students with a major question – “Brah, where do I even start”?  Continuing your education is expensive, but there are many forms of financial assistance available to students from Hawai’i. Applicants from rural communities like ours are often prioritized by many of the educational funding sources, and there are millions of dollars designated specifically for local students. Let’s take a look at some ways to help you pay for school.


Free aid based on academic and community achievements like excellent grades, extracurricular activities, community service, etc. is a great place to start. An individual application is usually required, and scholarships are offered by colleges, universities, community organizations, and even local businesses like KTA, Zippy’s, and Keaukaha General Store to name a few. Check with the employers of your friends and family to see if they offer a local scholarship program, and get ready to start writing personal essays! 

Remember, there will most likely be a separate scholarship application for each scholarship that you want to apply for. Always double-check the scholarship application due date because it might be earlier than the general admissions deadlines, so always double-check the due date. 

Student Loans

Be even more careful with these then when you sneak to the fridge to eat some of that leftover Liliko’i Cheesecake in the middle of the night. Student loan monies MUST be paid back, with some interest, and it is the one type of debt that will never go away by itself – even if you go bankrupt! Most student loans have a six- to nine-month grace period after you graduate before payments begin, but not even all of those beautiful pikake graduation leis can hide you from student loan lenders.  

There are two types of loans: Subsidized, where interest is deferred until you start repaying the loan and Unsubsidized, where interest is charged right away, starting with the first disbursement. Make sure to visit your school’s financial aid office to go over details of any education loan you are considering.


Grants are FREE financial aid based on a student’s need, which is determined by completing the FAFSA application. Examples of educational grants are the Federal Pell Grant and Federal Supplemental Opportunity Grant (FSEOG).  Did you catch the part where I said these are FREE MONIES from just filling out your FASFA online! Maika’i!


Work-Study is available at all of our Big Island undergraduate and graduate-level institutions. This federal program provides employment for undergraduate and graduate students with financial needs. Students complete part-time work, usually on campus, in exchange for assistance with educational costs. Essentially, you help to pay for your education by working for the school, AND whatever you earn is….TAX FREE towards your tuition!!! Cheeeeeeeee!


For need-based financial aid, including student loans, grants, and work-study, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. No matter how many schools you are applying to, you only need to fill out one FAFSA application and list the schools you want your FAFSA information to go to. The FAFSA is available starting January 1 for the upcoming year and should be completed as soon as possible if you are planning to enroll in college the fall of the same year. Please keep in mind, you have to fill out and submit your FAFSA application every year while you are in school. You should fill out the application regardless of your financial situation, as most students qualify for some form of assistance. For more details visit each college’s financial aid office/website, where you can get more information about deadlines and opportunities available at that specific college or university. 


Here are some websites with hundreds of scholarships for Big Island students to apply for, many of which don’t receive more than a handful of applicants. Imagine submitting some basic information about yourself and a short essay and BOOM – you have been entered into a $10,000 winner-take-all tournament! Now imagine that only two other students submitted applications for that same pile of cash! I’d say, “U get chance”!

Hawai’i-Based Financial Assistance Opportunities for Hawai’i Students:

Hawaii Community Foundation
Kamehameha Schools
Pauahi Foundation
Alu Like

Additional Financial Assistance Resources:

Student Aid
Student Loans


Featured photo via Pauahi Foundation.



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