Planning for college can be similar to planning for your Quinceañera: you’ll need to start well in advance; you’ll need to “shop” around for the one that’s a perfect fit for you; and just like with your Quinceañera, the costs for college can potentially soar through the roof. The great thing about college costs, however, is that there’s tons of financial aid available out there to help you and your parents pay for college. Read on to learn about what kinds of financial assistance programs are available to you.
There are Three Main Types of Financial Aid:
? Grants and Scholarships
What is it? Also called gift aid, grants and scholarships are financial sums that don’t have to be repaid and you don’t need to work to earn them. Grant and scholarship aid comes from federal and state governments and from individual colleges. Some scholarships are also awarded by private third parties.
Who qualifies? Grants and Scholarships are usually awarded based on merit, so in order to qualify, you need to make sure your grades and sometimes even attendance record are in tip top shape.
How can I get it? To apply for grants and scholarships (also known as need-based aid), you need to be a high school senior, and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), available at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Seniors can start applying in January, and you should apply as early as possible since most colleges are only given specific amounts to distribute. But you don’t have to be a senior to apply for a scholarship! Seniors and non-seniors can check out these other sites for information about how to qualify for a scholarship: fastweb.com or the College Board’s “Fund Finder” at collegeboard.com.
What is it? Work-study is a federal program which provides students with part-time employment (on- or off-campus) to help meet their financial needs and gives them work experience while serving their campuses and surrounding communities. Student employment and work-study aid helps students pay for education costs such as books, supplies, and personal expenses.
Who qualifies for it? Students must demonstrate a financial need in order to qualify for the federal work-study program. Different assessment rates and allowances are used for dependent students, independent students without dependents, and independent students with dependents.
How can I get it? To be considered for this program, you need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), available at www.fafsa.ed.gov. When filling out this form, be sure to indicate that you are interested in being considered for the federal work-study program by checking the appropriate box on the form.
What is it? Most financial aid comes in the form of loans, aid that must be repaid. There are three major types of loans: student, parent, and private. Most loans that are awarded by the federal government are based on financial need, and are low-interest. Parent loans and private, third-party loans have different terms and conditions.
Who qualifies? Even if you and your family don’t qualify for a federal grant or ‘free’ financial aid, almost everyone qualifies for a parent or a private loan.
How can I get it? For student loans like Stafford or Perkins, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid available at fafsa.ed.gov. Your parents can inquire and apply for PLUS loans at their banks, and FinAid! keeps an updated list of competitive private student loans which can be applied for by contacting the respective lender. Keep in mind that loans must be repaid, so in order to avoid taking out a large loan, it’s important to first apply for as many free scholarships and grants as you can before applying for a loan. This way you’ll have more ‘free money’ that you don’t have to pay back, and you also won’t have a huge loan bill waiting for you when you graduate.