College Financial Aid
According to the College Board, the average tuition and fees rose 11-percent at four-year public universities and 6-percent at private colleges and universities, bringing the total annual cost for education at degree-granting institutions to over $10,000 at public schools and nearly $25,000 at private ones. That's bad news for all of us, whether we want to go to a college or university, or we have children or grandchildren with post-secondary studies in their future.
Now, more than ever, financial aid is essential. The first step in acquiring college financial aid is to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA form. The FAFSA is available online, at most American high schools and universities, or by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID. The FAFSA is essentially the gateway into the world of financial aid. By completing it and returning it to the Department of Education, you become eligible for some of the over $67 billion earmarked for a variety of federally-funded aid programs, including the Pell Grant, the Stafford Loan and the Federal Work-Study Program.
In addition, it creates a student aid report that goes to both the state and to the college or university you plan to attend. Once you have been approved for federal aid, the state evaluates your case to see whether or not you are eligible for state-funded assistance. Finally, once all other forms of aid have been applied, the institution itself evaluates how much of the financial burden has been absolved, how much remains, and whether or not a student is eligible for school-funded grants, loans, or work-study programs.
Each type of college financial aid program works a little differently. Grants are money that is given to a student that does not need to be paid back. Like other types of loans, college loans need to be paid back, only interest tends to be much better on college loans, and arrangements can be made for payments to be deducted directly from a graduate's paycheck. In work study, a student is given a stipend in exchange for performing a certain number of hours of part-time work. It is quite likely that students, especially those who opt to attend the more expensive private colleges and universities, will wind up dealing with all three types of financial aid during the course of their educational career.
There are several resources on the Internet where perspective students can find out more about college financial aid, including merit and need based scholarship opportunities. FinAid is an award-winning online resource that is free to all users. It contains information about loans, scholarships and military-based aid, among other valuable data. Peterson's Education Portal includes, among other things, a section devoted to financial aid that includes a scholarship search engine and a website devoted to the colleges and universities that provide the best deals for the dollar. Finally, there is FastWeb, an online scholarship-search website that was used by more than 28 million students seeking college financial aid last year.