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How am I Going to Pay for a College Education?

The challenge is that the price of attending a college or university has gone up recently as well. Working a few hours a week flipping burgers is simply not going to bring in enough cold hard cash to get the job done. There are ways, however, to get the money you need to fund your college educationScholarships and grants are the best kinds of financial aid. You don’t have to pay those back. Scholarships and grants can either be “need based,”given because of the financial situation of the student and her family, or “merit based,”awarded to a student for strong academic skills or talents.

Some scholarships are a blend of need and merit. While scholarships and grants may be what you’re hoping for, there are never enough of those to go around. And, rising tuition could mean you will have to pay a larger share of the college costs. Loans are a form of financial aid that you will have to pay back. Loans based on financial need often have lower interest rates and are subsidized by the federal government. Loans not based on need are generally not subsidized, and you will end up paying a higher interest rate.

Make sure you understand all of the terms of any loans—the interest rate, the repayment schedule, and when repayment must begin— before you commit. Work-study programs require your student to work in order to receive money for school. Students typically work 10 to 15 hours per week but no more than 20. Work-study jobs are usually on campus, pay at least minimum wage, and can be related to your student’s major. A woman I know majored in animal science in college on her way to becoming a veterinarian.

She worked at the university’s veterinary hospital as part of her work-study program. Because of that connection, she had a leg up when applying to the vet school. When you apply for need-based financial aid, be prepared to provide a lot of financial information.

It’s a little like filling out your income taxes, and you’ll need many of the same records. The form usually required is called the FAFSA—the Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You want to fill it out as early as you can in order to get the best shot at financial aid because some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. You can find the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

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