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Financial aid options to know before you go


Monday, July 28, 2014

Paying for college without the availability of financial assistance can be challenging. While most schools participate in state and federal aid programs, it's possible that the college you are considering does not offer this aid. According to a report from the Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit organization devoted to college affordability, federal student loans are unavailable at two-year colleges in some states. For this reason, it's best that you know about the financial aid options a college offers before you apply. Here's a breakdown of some the these options and how to determine which is best for you.

Different types of financial aid
Whether it's federal, state, or school-based, there are many types of financial assistance available to help fund your education, according to FinAid, an online guide to financial aid.

  • Federal loans — These are funded by the federal government and include both need-based and non-need-based help. To get started, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. From there, you may be offered a Perkins Loan or a subsidized or unsubsidized Stafford Loan. Perkins and subsidized Stafford Loan are need-based and interest starts upon graduation. With an unsubsidized Stafford Loan the interest begins accruing while you are in school.
  • State loans — Many states offer loan programs to their resident students. The interest rates are generally lower than commercial loans and often interest rate reductions are available for borrowers who opt to arrange for automatic online payments or have a history of on-time payments. Contact organizations in your state for information on what's available.
  • Institutional — Many colleges and universities offer their own financial assistance programs. These programs, usually in the form of scholarships or grants, may be need- or merit-based. The money awarded does not have to be paid back, however you may need to maintain a certain GPA or fulfill other requirements to continue receiving the aid. Other campus-based programs include work study, in which you work for the university or affiliated programs and you get paid as part of your financial aid package. If housing is available, you also may be eligible to become a resident assistant, in which you monitor a floor of students in the dorms and act as a resource among them in exchange for free or reduced housing fees.

How to find what's available
Since all of this information can be overwhelming, there are many resources that can help. The best starting point could be your college's Web site, Debbie Cochrane, the Institute for College Access & Success research director, told The New York Times. During your college search, check the financial aid section of the school's site and make sure that federal and state aid are offered. From there, note which institution-based programs are available, including work study and merit-based scholarships. If particular programs are not listed, or are difficult to find, send an e-mail or call. You should be able to get answers to your questions once you contact someone directly.

You should also see what type of aid is available in your community. Many private entities, including community and religious organizations, corporations and professional associations offer money for college. Your school counselor or college prep center is a great resource for this information.

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Financial aid options to know before you go
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