(KFVS) - A college education often goes hand in hand with a hefty price tag.
While free college may never be a viable option, federal aid and scholarships help make it more affordable.
There's one way, however, students are missing out on free money.
This scene is one duplicated in the homes of high school seniors worldwide.
"I thought I was really prepared but there's a lot to do I didn't realize," Notre Dame High School senior Maddie McClintock said.
Selecting, applying for and paying for the college of your dreams is no small task.
But getting into that university is just the beginning.
Because after the acceptance letter comes the bill.
"I think finances are always top of mind playing into the college decision," Lenell Hahn said.
Lenell Hahn is Director of Admissions at Southeast Missouri State University.
She said there are lots of options for students - they just need to use them.
"The web is a great resource," Hahn said. "Reaching out to colleges you're interested in is a must. The other tip is to take advantage of school counselors. They're a wealth of information in regards to scholarships."
A tip high school senior Maddie McClintock has used to her advantage.
"This is list of all scholarships counselors gave us that we can fill out," she said while scrolling through a list on her iPad.
And while she's not eligible for all, "some are specific, this farmers one is for you want to go into agriculture," Maddie explained.
She's used that list to cut into her tuition.
"Like right now, I'm getting 70 perceny off my out of state tuition."
Scholarships rarely go unawarded, but free federal aid often goes unused.
Maddie's family wanted to at least see if they qualified.
"My mom did all the FAFSA stuff for us so that was awesome," Maddie said.
The FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid should be a must for all seniors looking to further their education.
But according to NerdWallet, in 2013 47 percent of high school graduates didn't complete this step which left 2.9 billion dollars on the table.
"You miss out on money if you miss deadlines," Hahn said.
And that's money that you don't have to pay back.
According to the Department of Education, just this past year hundreds of students at Southeast, Murray State and SIU Carbondale used federal Pell Grants.
Between the three universities, 692 students received more than $900,000 toward their education.
Maddie, like many students her age, is nearing the end of a year-long journey to start another.
Hopefully with a little extra money in her pocket.
"We just visited again and I'm really excited," Maddie said.
While the Internet is a great resource for students, Hahn said to beware any sites that make you pay to be considered for financial aid or scholarships.
There are plenty of sites with extensive lists that are free.