Paying for College
If you’re a junior, you’re right on time. If you’re a senior, you’re pushing the limits. But it’s never too late—or too early—to begin reviewing your finances and looking for financial aid for college. You don’t have to have an overflowing checking account to pay for a degree. Loans, scholarships and grants are yours for the taking.
Why should you be interested in federal student aid? Shouldn’t your parents take care of it? Nope—those scholarships, grants and loans are going to be in your name. Don’t you want to know how much debt you’ll have after paying for college -or how much you won’t? Follow these steps and you will be well on your way to creating a beneficial financial-aid package.
Federal Student Aid Tips
1. Research and make contact. Make use of your high school counselors, college financial aid office and the Web. Call the financial aid offices of your top-choice schools, let them know you’re a prospective student, and ask if you have all the forms needed. You don’t need to be planning to attend a specific school in order to call and ask questions or even set up a meeting with financial aid officers. It’s best to find out your options before applying. If you won’t go in search of the information, it will probably find its own way to you. Look in your high school, college fairs or in The Next Step Magazine for information on federal student aid sources.
2. Fill out the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is as important as filling out your college application. If you don’t fill out the FAFSA, you won’t be eligible for federal student aid. Check in your counselor’s office for a form, or apply online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
3. Apply for scholarships. The best money is free money. Scholarships are one way to cover the cost of paying for college without getting into debt. Give yourself plenty of time to search for scholarships and write essays. You can get scholarships based on your ethnicity, academic achievements and extracurricular activities and special skills, just to name a few.
4. Apply for grants. Paying for college with grant money should be your first choice. Like scholarships, grants are funding that doesn’t need to be repaid. The Pell Grant, a grant through the federal government, is the form most taken advantage of by college students. However, you may also receive a grant through the college you will attend or through an educational grant foundation.
5. Apply for federal loans. Due to the high cost of paying for college, scholarships and grants often don’t cover the cost of your education entirely. In this case, you may find yourself relying on loans. Federal loans, such as the Perkins Loan, Stafford Loan or PLUS Loan, are examples. The Stafford Loan may be subsidized, meaning you won’t have to pay interest on it while enrolled in school, or unsub-sidized, meaning the interest payments fall on your shoulders even while you attend classes. Both the Stafford and the Perkins loans are taken out in your name. Your parents, on the other hand, can borrow through the PLUS loan program. Ask at your school’s financial-aid office to see which lenders they prefer. Then, shop around to see who can offer what you need.
When federal student aid isn’t available...
6. If necessary, apply for private loans. If you must take out a private loan, pay close attention to the interest rate and repayment terms. Make sure you know when the loan will be collecting interest, when you can expect to pay it back and how to defer loan payments if you end up jobless for a while after graduation.
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