Anxiety over the decision of which college to attend, how to get accepted, and how to pay for it can get pretty intense for most students and their families. A little research and effort will go a long way towards making better college decisions, getting accepted, and perhaps most importantly securing the financial aid and/or grants to pay for your college education.

Coming up with the money to pay for education is normally not such a fun topic. But it’s a very important one. Too many students end up with inadequate college choices due to the lack of financial planning for college. The only way to be prepared for the future is gain as much understanding as possible regarding what it costs to go to college and what financial aid programs are available to you.

Basically, financial aid makes up the difference between what you or your family can afford to pay for college and what the total cost is for you to attend the college of your choice. The basic idea behind financial aid is that students who cannot afford to cover the full cost of their education should still be able to go. In the past, financial aid basically meant grants and scholarships, which are still very common, however nowadays government and private education loans are the main source of financial aid. This recent change in financial aid from grants to loans has resulted in some confusion and concern, mainly because college graduates end up having to pay off their education loans for years after graduating. And it’s not only the students. Even parents are borrowing money to help pay for their kids’ education needs.

If you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to pay for your education you probably have a lot of questions. Is there money for everyone? Is there money for me? Where does it come from? The largest source of money for education comes from… Uncle Sam – the U.S. Federal government. This is called need-based aid because the more you need it the more you will qualify for. The money comes from tax dollars and majority of the money is made available by the Department of Education. Because the Federal government is the largest provider of student financial aid it will be hugely beneficial for you to know as much as possible about all of its financial aid programs.

The department of Education provides aid primarily through grant programs (free money that doesn’t have to be paid back). The money can be used for tuition, or for federally subsidized low-interest loans. The amount of money available for grants has decreased in recent years, and the amount of money available for loans has risen. However, one of the few things politicians agree on these days is that we need to continue increasing spending on education programs. Every year all of the government’s financial aid programs are listed and explained in a publication called The Student’s Guide: Federal Financial Aid Programs. You can have a copy sent to you by calling 1-800-4-FEDAID (1-800-433-3243). There is no fee to receive the guide. Keep in mind that the eligibility for these programs can change every year, so just because you didn’t qualify for program in the past doesn’t mean you won’t qualify this year.