Most students who attend college do not have the funds to pay for it themselves. The majority of those students cannot rely on their families to pay for college either. Therefore, student loans are very popular. The process isn't as difficult as one may think, and usually starts with a visit to the high school guidance counselor.
The first thing the student should do is fill out the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is a sheet which helps the student identify what programs and loans they can qualify for to help them attend college. It's usually present in the guidance counselor's office, but students can also apply for the FAFSA online.
It's important to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible in order to be qualified for the next semester of school. There is a lot of information required for this form, and some of the information will need to be taken from tax papers and financial forms, so gather that kind of information before you start. The FAFSA has to be completed each year of college, but will be easier with each year after the first.
Finding Out What You Qualify For
After filling out the FAFSA, the schools you apply to will get a Student Aid Report containing your EFC or expected family contribution the amount of money you should be able to pay for your education. You'll receive letters from the schools you've been accepted to which will include information regarding financial aid options and grant programs. You may qualify for Stafford loans, PLUS loans or Perkins loans, and other programs which will help you attend college. You'll need to secure those applications and get the ball rolling for those as soon as possible.
If you do qualify for federal loans, the money will be sent to the school usually, and the school will disburse the money to you. This money will help you pay for the cost of the semester as well as books and supplies and in some cases, living expenses. Some students who do not have enough to cover everything they need with financial aid can apply for private loans through banks or other financial institutions. Private loans should only be used as a last resort, as students typically can't defer them the way they can federal loans. However, in some cases it's necessary, and the student's personal credit will be checked to determine the interest rates of those loans.
Paying the Money Back
With some loans, students don't have to start paying them back for a period of time. For instance, the government will take care of the interest on Federal Stafford Subsidized loans while the student is in school. After school, sometimes the student has several months before they have to begin repaying the loan. With private loans, the period of repayment typically occurs right away, even while the student is in school. While it may sound like a complicated process, it's really not and it's often necessary for those who want an education.
For more help with obtaining the right educational funding, refer to our other articles on student loans.