I Want A Degree But How Can I Afford It?

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January 22nd, 2014 by schoolbound

Beyond the hurdle of trying to figure out what your calling is in life and then pursuing it, there is the question of how you will afford it. Once you are in school the goal is to focus on your studies and get the most out of your time there, rather than worry about how you will pay for it. You certainly do not want to let financial issues plague you, or even worse to prevent you from reaching your education goals.
shutterstock_104809838There is always Financial Aid. Don’t be scared, it is there to help you and ease your mind. After all, you are in this to be successful and secure in your new career and loans can be paid back over time. Also don’t forget to look into Grants and Scholarships but that is a different post. Let’s look at Financial Aid Student Loans now.
Every college and university has a Financial Aid office to help you navigate the confusing world of applying. But I urge you to do your own research first so it is not so overwhelming. The website http://studentaid.ed.gov/  offers a lot of information to help you make sense of the contracts, tuition, fees, loans and refund policies of institutions and gives great advice. There is a document on this site called Be An Informed Consumer that is worth a quick read.
Student loans can come from the federal government or from private sources like banks. Federal student loans are usually more affordable because the interest rates are usually lower, and they have more flexible repayment options than loans from banks or other private organizations. There is a page here that may help you understand the differences between federal and private student loans. The Department of Education has two programs: Direct Loans where the US Dept of Education is your lender, and the Perkins Loan where your school is your lender. You can click here to compare all of the federal student loan programs. An important thing to remember is to only borrow what you NEED regardless of what your school offers you. You do not want to be in debt up to your eyeballs once you graduate.
To be eligible for Financial Aid you must prove financial need, be a US citizen or eligible noncitizen, have a green card or similar. You must also have a High School Diploma or GED, be enrolled as a regular student in a certificate or degree program, be registered for Selective Service, have a valid Social Security number or equivalent, fill out your FAFSA which will be explained below and most of all maintain good grades. Here is a great graphic that explains all of this.
To apply for a federal student loan,you have to fill out a  Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Based on the results of your FAFSA, your school will send you a financial aid offer, which may include federal student loans. Your school will tell you how to accept all or a part of the loan.
Before you receive the actual funds you will be required to complete an entrance counseling  to make sure you understand that you are obligated to payback the loan, and you must sign a Master Promissory Note (MPN), agreeing to the terms of the loan. Make sure to contact your school’s Financial Aid office to find out the specifics of how your school handles the process.
There is a ton of information on the Government’s Student Aid website that you should read through and familiarize yourself with along with your school’s policies and protocols.
It is also worth a serious poke around the Department’s Web site at http://collegecost.ed.gov/ which offers a lot of tools and information to help you, from their College Scorecard which helps you find colleges that are affordable, to the Net Price Calculator Center which can help you see your costs after grants and scholarships are applied.
As I have said, make sure to do your own research and be an informed student. It will help with the decision making process and understanding what you really need and do not need, keeping your debt in check and making for an easier educational experience.
Good luck!