A college education is an important investment, but an enormously expensive one. Doing anything possible to reduce your bill is worthwhile, and zeroing in on the right financial aid can help you a great deal. Look to both government and private sources to increase your chances of funding. Before you fill out your applications, remember these tips for acquiring college financial aid.
Securing Government Aid for College
For years, publicly subsidized aid for education costs has been widely available to students, and it has become even more important with the financial reforms of the last several years. The Federal government is a major provider of low interest loans and grants for qualifying students and their families. However, state governments and localities inject extra borrowing as well.
All applications for government aid begin and end with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. This easy to file document needs to be submitted during the year you plan on attending college, and then updated every year after that. FAFSA's are easily submitted electronically over the Internet, or mailed in with copies of the appropriate documentation. If you're an older student, you'll need to have all of your tax and bank account information on hand to send in with the FAFSA. For dependents, family financial documentation is required.
Successfully sending in FAFSA forms entitles many students to some type of aid. Even families and individuals making median income or less are likely to receive low interest credit like Ford and Stafford loans. Unfortunately, Pell grants and similar types of aid are only available to extremely low income individuals. However, it still pays to file a FAFSA, since state education departments and many private entities use the same information to review applications.
Getting Private Financial Aid
Though not as streamlined or well defined as government backed student aid, private organizations provide the most lucrative and widely available types of aid. It's far easier to get money you don't owe back by applying to private scholarships, versus public sources. Scholarship processes differ in every case, but you can generally expect to submit financial information along with extra credentials.
Many scholarships are largely driven by your participation in a certain activity, or by falling into special categories. Ethnicity, geography, and professional interests open up many different types of scholarships. Some are awarded entirely on merit, often proven by submitting academic reports from High School, along with an essay requested by the sponsors on a select topic.
The last place you should turn to if government and private aid isn't enough to cover all of your education costs is private credit. Large banks are often willing to hand out student loans, with a co-signer. However, note that interest rates and borrowing terms are far less favorable to students than with government loans. To apply, simply approach a private student lender with a copy of your FAFSA information and a co-signer such as a parent.
Financing your full college education requires careful planning, but it's not difficult. Always try to minimize your debts and maximize sources of aid that cover costs up front.