Uncle Sam offers a number of programs to help relieve some of the burden of paying for higher education, from Pell grants to Perkins loans.
Here's a rundown of the programs and how you can take advantage of them:
As noted earlier, the first step to receiving federal aid is filling out a FAFSA form, which can be obtained online, from a high school counselor or by calling (800) 4-FED-AID.
The U.S. Department of Education administers federal college aid programs. To be eligible for federal student aid, you must:
- Demonstrate financial need (not part of the criteria for some loans).
- Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen with a valid Social Security number.
- Show, by any of the means below, that you're qualified to obtain a post-high school education:
- Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development, or GED, certificate.
- Pass a test approved by the Department of Education.
- Comply with any state standards the Department of Education approves.
- Complete a high school education through a state-approved home-schooling program.
- Be enrolled as a regular student (that is, you have to be working toward a degree or certificate) in an eligible program.
- Register with the Selective Service, if required.
- Not be in default on a federal student loan or owe money on a federal student grant.
- Not be convicted of selling or possessing illegal drugs.
- Maintain satisfactory academic progress once in school.
After you've proved that you fulfill all these requirements and you submit your FAFSA, the government will consider you for the aid programs they offer.
Federal student aid comes in two flavors: gift aid and self-help aid. You don't have to pay back gift aid, and the self-help aid programs allow you to earn money or to borrow money for school. Borrowed money, as it implies, must be repaid.