Understanding financial aid


With the average cost of attendance at the top "affordable" public universities closing in on $30,000 a year in 2012 -- and the top private schools approaching the $60,000-a-year threshold -- just about everybody needs a little financial help when paying for college these days.

Luckily, there is some assistance out there. Half of all college students get grants or scholarships that cut their net prices down. The rest can reduce the financial pain by taking advantage of other programs, such as low-cost government student loans, employer assistance, tax breaks or other aid.

Here's our guide on how to get the financial aid you need so you won't end up with heaps of debt for years to come.

Getting started: What is financial aid? Financial aid helps millions of students afford college each year. However, while some financial aid is wonderful, other types don't really provide much "aid" at all. Learn how to tell the good from the bad.

How do I get free money for college? Getting free money to help pay for college through grants, scholarships or other means isn't as far out of reach as most students think.

Who qualifies for need-based aid? Don't assume the worst: Even families earnings six-figures can qualify as "needy" at some expensive schools. We'll tell you where to find tools, worksheets and other resources that will help you determine what you might qualify for.

Applying for need-based financial aid. Ready to get started? Here are the forms you need to fill out -- and the calls you need to make -- to apply for need-based grants and other financial aid.

How can I find merit aid and scholarships? Are you a strong athlete, a budding artist or an astronomy whiz? Find out who awards merit money and who to ask.

Financial aid tools and resources. If you know where to look, you can find some useful tutorials on how to apply for aid, and how to address unusual circumstances. Here are resources to help you understand and apply for financial aid, grants and scholarships.

NEXT: Financial aid basics To top of page

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