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It's a big myth that only the rich can attend college. The fact is that the money is out there for you if you know where to look. Learn the basics of the financial aid process, from federal and state aid to scholarship searches, in financial aid facts. Use the online resources to connect to financial aid web sites, get general information, and apply for scholarships, grants, and loans.

Questions to ask the financial aid office

  • What is the total cost of tuition and fees, room and board at your college?
  • How much has that figure increased annually over the last three years?
  • What scholarships are available and how do I apply for them?
  • What types of financial aid are available?
  • What financial aid applications do I need to complete and when are they due?
  • What determines whether or not I will receive financial aid?
  • Do you meet the full need of every admitted student?
  • Do I have to apply for financial aid every year?
  • How and when will funds be disbursed to me?
  • What is the refund policy for students who withdraw?

Where should I begin my search?

The financial aid offices at the colleges to which you will apply are the best places to begin your search for information. The financial aid administrator can tell you about student aid available from the federal government, your state government, the college itself, and other sources. Talk to the college about financial aid early in your senior year of high school.

The most common college-funded scholarship/financial aid programs are merit-based programs, talent-based programs, need-based programs, trait-based programs, and alternative programs such as jobs, various payment plans, and guaranteed tuition plans.

Many colleges use the FAFSA (see below) to determine your eligibility for college-based financial aid. Some use the PROFILE application, sponsored by the College Scholarship Service. Check with the colleges of your choice to see if you need to fill out this form. Your high school guidance counselor's office should also have a booklet listing the colleges that use the PROFILE.

Are there special scholarships for Catholic students?

Yes, organizations such as The Catholic Aid Association offer scholarships to their members. Call Catholic Aid at 1-800-568-6670 or visit their web site at www.catholicaid.com. Remember to ask college financial aid offices for sources of aid.

Where can I get information about state student aid?

To find out about state programs, call or visit the web site of your state education agency (usually in the capital of your state). You can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (see number above) to get the phone numbers for your state. States sponsor both need-based and non-need-based programs.

What about federal student aid?

After talking to the colleges you are interested in, apply for federal student aid. The major source of student financial aid is the U.S. Department of Education. According to the Department, nearly 70 percent of the student aid that is awarded each year comes from Department of Education programs.

A critical step in receiving federal aid is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can complete a FAFSA online, filing as early as January 1. Filling out this form is well worth your time -- many colleges use the FAFSA information to award aid in their own need-based programs.

You'll find The Student Guide, a very helpful booklet about financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education, on the web at www.ed.gov/prog_info/SFA/StudentGuide. You may also request The Student Guide or the FAFSA by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center toll-free:

1-800-4 FED AID
(1-800-433-3243)
(TDD 1-800-730-8913)
Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. EST

The major sources of aid from the U.S. Department of Education are:
  • Federal Stafford Loans
  • Federal PLUS Loans
  • Federal Direct Loans
  • Federal Pell Grants
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants
  • Federal Perkins Loans
  • Federal Work-Study
Most federal student aid is awarded based on financial need rather than scholastic achievement. For instance, most grants are targeted to high-need students. However, keep in mind that you do not have to show financial need to receive federally guaranteed loans such as PLUS or unsubsidized Stafford or Direct loans.

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