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Don't think you can pay for college? Think again! During the 2010-11 school year, $227 billion dollars in financial aid was made available to students. In fact, two-thirds of college students receive financial assistance of some kind.
There are 3 primary types of financial aid: scholarships, grants and student loans. But before we delve into those, please take the time to read about FAFSA.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
A significant portion of all financial aid comes from the Federal Government. To determine the types/amount of aid for which you may qualify and to streamline the entire qualification process, the Department of Education created the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) site.
It is vitally important that you go to this site and complete this application. Once you have completed the application (which requires tax and earnings data), you will be eligible to receive federal financial aid. Perhaps more importantly, most states, colleges and universities use the FAFSA as a starting point for awarding other types of financial assistance including grants, loans, and work-study programs. Although completing this application is somewhat time-consuming, it is definitely worth your while.
You can submit your FAFSA application beginning January 1. Because financial aid is typically distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, it's a good idea to submit your application on or shortly after January 1.
If you're pole-vaulting skills aren't quite up to par, don't worry; scholarships are available for an incredibly wide range of talents, skills, and circumstances. Besides the traditional athletic and academic scholarships, scholarships are awarded for ethnicity, disability, financial need, parents' places of employment, religious affiliation, gender, and combinations of the above.
Scholarships come from a wide range of entities including charities, businesses, schools, the government, clubs, organizations, and individuals. In some cases, scholarships funds are disbursed directly to the recipient (you), while in other cases the funds go directly to the school. Scholarships are often awarded on a yearly basis. If this is the case, you must re-apply for the scholarship every year.
Finding and applying for scholarships can be a time-consuming process. Be sure to make use of the sites listed on the Resources page. The good news is, unlike student loans, you don't have to pay back scholarships.
Grants can come from the Federal Government, state governments or private institutions. Like scholarships, you don't have to pay back grants. Many grants are need-based, but private institutions also award grants based on field of study, academic achievement, extracurricular achievement, ethnicity, and your geographic origin.
In addition to the popular Pell Grant program (named after Sen. Claiborne Pell), the Federal Government also offers the following grants:
There are 2 primary sources of student loans: the Federal Government and private institutions such as banks and credit unions. The terms and conditions of loans offered by private institutions vary greatly. Therefore, we'll focus on the federal loans. Regardless of their origin, all loans must be paid back with interest.
The Federal Government offers the following types of student loans:
For More Information
The Resources page lists many valuable resources. However, for the complete low-down on financial aid in a single publication, be sure to check out CollegeBoard.org's comprehensive Getting Financial Aid 2012. It's around $20, but that's quite the bargain when considering how much money you may be able to save.