Some of the best things in life may be free, but college costs are at an all-time high--so is uncertainty among students and their families about the ability to pay the bills. Contrary to what you may have heard, help is available -- and lots of it -- in the form of financial aid. You can improve your chances of getting sufficient financial aid by learning about the application process and by planning ahead.
WHAT IS FINANCIAL AID?
Financial aid is help for meeting college costs, both direct educational costs (tuition, fees, and books) and personal living expenses (room and board, personal expenses, and travel). Broadly, there are two kinds of financial aid available: aid based on need, as determined by the College Scholarship Service, federal guidelines, or institutional policies, and no-need or merit scholarships awarded for academic excellence, athletic prowess, artistic talent, leadership, or other criteria.
NEED-BASED FINANCIAL AID
Individual colleges determine financial aid packages based upon the information provided by you on several forms -- the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the College Scholarship Service (CSS) PROFILE, and the college’s own institutional forms. These forms will help the financial aid office determine the estimated family contribution (EFC) to the student’s educational costs. The difference between the cost of attending the college and the EFC is the need. The individual college will put together a financial aid package designed to meet that need. At most colleges, a package will include a combination of grants, loans, and work-study employment. Families receiving financial aid from AOC should note that college financial aid packages will differ from high school financial aid packages. Your dean and the Net Price Calculators on college web sites can help you anticipate college costs.
Grants are funds that do not have to be repaid. Grants are usually awarded on the basis of need alone and can come from a variety of sources -- Pell Grants (federal money), state grants (usually available only to students attending college in their home state, such as Cal Grants), and grant money from the college's own financial aid budgets.
Loans must be repaid, generally after you have graduated or left school, and usually have lower interest rates than commercial loans. The amount of these federal student loans are capped to ensure that students are not overburdened with debt when they leave school. There are also federal loans available to parents if