There is no denying the fact that college costs are rising. The good news, however, is that there is more financial aid available than ever before. You just need to know where to look for it and what to do to receive it.

Who qualifies for financial aid?

Many students and parents believe that only the very best students receive financial aid. But the reality is that most students receive some form of financial aid. Aid is awarded based on need and/or merit. Once you are accepted, the colleges put together a financial aid package that consists of grants, scholarships, work-study and student loans.

Does financial aid affect affordability?

Colleges publish the cost of tuition, room and board—the “sticker price”. But most colleges are more affordable than you might think. After grants and scholarships are taken into consideration, the net price the average undergraduate pays for a college education is significantly lower than the published tuition and fees. Financial aid reduces the actual cost you and your family will actually pay.

How do you apply for financial aid?

You must fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) in order to qualify for financial aid. Even if your family can afford to pay for college, complete the FAFSA because merit-aid is also determined based on this government form. If you don’t complete the form, the colleges can’t award you any money; this includes scholarships, student loans and federal grants.

Do deadlines matter?

Absolutely. College financial aid goes fast. The earlier you can get in your FAFSA application and all the other information that a college requires, the better your chances will be to receive a substantial financial aid package. Waiting until the last minute could mean that all the money has been dispersed and the only money you will receive will be in the form of student loans.

Although college “sticker prices” might deter many students from applying to college, there is financial aid available. You can lay your hands on some of that cash by applying on time and familiarizing yourself with the financial aid process.

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