Financial Aid
and Grants
Make College Dreams Reality

For the 2006-7 academic year, tuition at four-year public colleges increased 6.3 percent, its smallest rise in five years, according to the College Board's annual Trends in College Pricing report, while the price of attending a four-year private college rose by 5.9 percent. In other words, each year, college tuition gets more and more expensive. How to bridge the gap? More and more students are benefiting from some combination of financial aid -- federal aid, grants, and scholarships -- to help cover the costs of their education. In fact, total student aid amounted to a whopping $134.8 billion in 2005-06!

Think there isn't any for you? Think again. The first thing any college expert or financial aid counselor will advise is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) ( – that's the first step in applying for financial aid, even if you don't think you'll qualify (you may be surprised!).

Doing so will determine your Expected Family Contribution or EFC, based on your family income and assets. The EFC is how much of your family's resources is considered "available" to pay for college costs. If the anticipated cost of attendance is greater than your EFC, you will most likely qualify for financial aid. The amount and type of aid you are awarded will vary for each school, however, since costs are different.

It's a good idea to contact the financial aid offices of your choice schools in advance to see what aid is available, learn about any upcoming scholarship or grant deadlines, and ask about work-study programs. Once your financial need is determined, each college that accepts you will offer a financial aid package, which may include a combination of any or all of the following: scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study.

Both grants and scholarships are considered gift aid or free money, meaning they typically do not have to be repaid. Grants can come from federal or state government entities as well as from individual colleges. Scholarships are usually awarded by schools or private organizations based on merit, special circumstances, or other criteria.

Then there's the other type of financial aid -- student loans and work-study. Yes, loans are considered financial aid, and for the majority of students, they will be included as part of the financial aid package. And work-study is basically a government-sponsored program in which you work on campus to help supplement the cost of your education. In essence, both of these forms of aid require some type of  "pay back."

Other important college cash tips:

  1. Financial aid applications must be completed for every year that you attend college. Don't take for granted that you're financial aid package will always be the same.

  2. If your school of choice offers you a financial aid package that does not meet the total cost of education, you can certainly contact them to try to negotiate. If you are the type of student they are looking for, you just may be able to work out a more inviting financial aid deal.

  3. While many expensive financial aid consulting services exist, there is plenty of free information available on how to fill out forms, maximize your aid eligibility, and the overall process. In other words, never feel pressured to spend money to get money. Start your research by visiting
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