What is the Best Way to Find Financial Aid for College?

financial aid 2In today’s job environment, more and more employers are requiring applicants to have a college degree. Whether you are a high school senior just exploring your options, an adult interested in advancing your career, or unemployed with the need to expand your hiring opportunities, paying for college is a big concern. The good news is, there are several financial aid options available for students, and the best way to find them is online.

Free Money

Scholarships, grants, and work study programs should be explored first. Every college website will detail what they offer, requirements and deadlines. Many larger universities offer merit-based scholarships to high school students as determined by SAT or ACT scores.

Many big companies offer scholarships or tuition assistance to their employees for continuing education; often the benefits are offered for dependents as well. Check with your human resources department or company website.

For veterans or members of the armed forces, www.military.com can explain educational benefits available. In some cases, 100% of tuition expenses may be paid.

The Federal Pell Grant Program is based on need, and like scholarships, these grants not require repayment. All students must complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form online (FAFSA.ed.gov) to determine eligibility. Some states also budget for tuition assistance programs – generally based on income. After completing the FAFSA form, you will be directed to your state program website, if available.

Federal Government Sponsored Loans

Stafford loans are an excellent way to supplement any shortfall in tuition, books, or room and board. Application is made by also completing the FAFSA form. Upon review of both student and parent income data, a financial aid award for a low-interest loan will be offered. Upon acceptance, funds will be transferred directly to the college selected. While there has been much controversy in the news recently about interest rates on these college loans, they still represent the best value for students. Terms are attractive as you can defer any payment until six months after graduation. Stafford loan awards are subsidized (no interest charged while in school) or unsubsidized (interest charged from time of disbursement.) Be sure to watch deadlines as they take several weeks to process.

Private Education Loans

SallieMae offers variable and fixed interest rates plus a deferred payment option on private longs to finance education. With no origination fees or early payment penalty, this can also be an attractive choice. Parent loans and home equity loans may be an alternative, but repayment typically begins immediately and is the parent’s financial responsibility – not the student’s.

Finding the right financial aid for college will take a little time and research. The internet can be an invaluable tool in this process. While it may seem like a daunting task, your efforts will be rewarded. If you remember to look for free money first, low-cost, government-sponsored programs next, and then private education loans last, you will have learned the most valuable lesson yet – how to finance your future.

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