If you're like most students, you'll probably need some help with college costs. The first step is to apply for federal aid.
Below are some great links and tips on how to help fund your education.
Gather financial papers for applications.
Download a Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Check out Nellie Mae for Student Loans and how to obtain them.
A helpful calculator for comparing award letters can be found on the Nellie Mae site.
If you haven't filed a FAFSA yet -- get going! This form must be completed if you want to be eligible for federal and state aid. A lot of aid is distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, so the sooner you file, the better.
Check your numbers. The first thing to do is make sure the information on the SAR is complete and correct. Colleges and universities start sending out admission acceptance letters in March and financial aid award notices come close behind. Expect a financial aid award letter to arrive within two weeks of an acceptance letter. Many schools send out acceptance and aid notifications on the same day.
In a financial aid package a college or university will try to make up the difference between the cost of attending their school and a family's expected contribution as spelled out in a SAR report. Some succeed more than others. Three schools with similar costs may offer very different financial aid packages.
Much depends on a student's academic credentials, a family's financial need and how much aid is available from a school. Private schools tend to have deeper pockets than state schools.
Don't dip into retirement savings. Parents who feel barreled over by their expected family contribution and the prospect of some heavy education loans for themselves or their child may be tempted to dip into their retirement savings. Experts advise against this. "You can't borrow for retirement."
All candidates should receive an admissions notification by around April 1 and financial aid packages by mid-April. Most schools give applicants until May 1 to select a school. Students should make use of all this down time to seek out and apply for scholarships. "There are deadlines for awards every single month," says Mark Kantrowitz, founder of FinAid, a Web-based guide to financial aid.
Look for scholarships. Check out individual college Web sites, and search for scholarship sources on sites listed above.
Avoid sites that charge you to search for scholarships.