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Financial Aid 101

1. The Basics

So you've decided to go to college. Great choice! A college education can open many doors in your professional and personal life.

College is an investment in your future, and many options exist for financing that investment. The first step is to understand these options and make the best decisions based on your family's situation.

These questions introduce you to the basics of financial aid. If this process is new to you, read through all the questions and answers from top to bottom.

2. Determine Your Eligibility

If you understand the types of financial aid and how the process works, you can figure out what types of aid you may be eligible to receive.

3. Apply! Apply! Apply!

You won't get any aid without taking the next step: you must APPLY!

You are not obligated to accept any financial aid until you receive the funds, so there is no harm in applying. Be sure to review the eligibility requirements, though. If you're sure you don't meet them, don't waste valuable time applying. However, if you think you might be eligible, APPLY! You can also seek help from a college's financial aid office to get more information on eligibility.

"Don't be shy about applying somewhere because of the perceived cost [of tuition]. Apply and find out what the real cost will be," says Jim Kolesar, a spokesman for Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

4. Consider Your Loan Options

So you've learned about financial aid, determined your eligibility, and filled out all those applications. Soon you should receive your financial aid award letters from the colleges you are considering. It's exciting to think about starting college! But before you accept an award package, make sure you fully understand your options and responsibilities.

5. Enjoy College and Know Your Responsibilities

Congratulations! All your hard work and research has finally paid off. You have been accepted to the college of your choice and have secured the best financial aid package for you and your family. Enjoy the college experience, and study hard. And remember that your financial aid responsibilities will continue throughout your college career. To continue receiving aid, you'll need to keep working towards your degree.

Financial Aid Glossary

APR, EFC, FDSLP, FFELP, FAFSA, SAR. A bowl of alphabet soup, and more!