Always apply for "free" financial aid—grants and scholarships—first. Free financial aid (sometimes called "gift aid") is the type that you do not need to pay back (as long as you meet all of the obligations).
You will probably not receive enough aid in the forms of grants and scholarships to cover 100% of your costs. Loans provide a convenient way to cover any gaps in funding. But you must repay loans, so apply for as many grants or scholarships as possible before you consider a loan.
- Cost: You do not need to pay grants back as long as you meet all of the obligations.
- Eligibility: Based on your family's ability to pay, the cost of your education, and certain merit criteria
- Cost: You do not need to pay scholarships back as long as you meet all of the obligations.
- Eligibility: May be based on your major, athletic ability, scholastic ability, religious affiliation, or other criteria
- Cost: You must pay loans back WITH INTEREST.
- Eligibility: Usually based on your financial need and other factors
- The first step to applying for financial aid is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
- Some employers offer educational funding to eligible employees.
- Be wary of any organization that charges a fee. You can get much of the same help for free from your school, the U.S. Department of Education, or your state student aid agency.
- Pursue federal loans before alternative (private) loans. Federal loans generally offer lower interest rates, multiple repayment options, and deferments and forbearances.