You've finally finished all of your college applications and they are safely in the mail.  But guess what?  Your college application process still isn't finished!  It is now time to begin the march towards obtaining financial aid to help pay for your college education.

If your parents are completely financing your college education, consider yourself to be one of the lucky ones!  But if you are like the majority of the college-going population, the financial aid process has only just begun.  Your journey will start with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Everyone who is applying for financial aid has to fill out the FAFSA.  This form is available in your school's Career Center, your counselor's office or online.  Although students can complete a paper FAFSA application, the FAFSA can be filled out online for faster processing.  Use a paper FAFSA application first as a rough draft, then fill out the online form.

Your FAFSA will help you determine your financial need - based on a college's cost and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

Types of Financial Aid
There are many different types of financial aid out there.  Four of the most popular types of financial aid are:

  • Grants - Students do NOT have to repay grants.  They are typically given for athletics, academics, special talent, need-based, etc.
  • Scholarships - Students also do NOT have to repay scholarships.  Scholarships can be awarded for athletics, academic excellence or special talent.
  • Loans - These must be repaid.  There are two types of loans: federal loans and alternative loans.
  • College Work Study - Work study allows colleges to hire students for employment to pay their own way as they attend college.  You do not repay the money earned.

There are also two different types of student loans - federal and alternative loans.

  • Federal loans are guaranteed by the US government.
  • Alternative loans are guaranteed by private guarantee agencies.