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An Investment in Your Future

If you’ve done your homework up to now, you know that it costs a lot of money to go to college. Like about $8,000 a year if you’re a Florida resident enrolled full time at a public university, three times as much if you elect to attend a private school. And that’s just for tuition and fees; remember, you’ve still got to cover books, supplies, transportation to and from campus, and other miscellaneous items you might not even know about yet.

Given that the average bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete — longer if you opt for part-time classes so you can continue to work — you’re looking at a bill of at least $32,000 for your college education. Yikes!

Who has that kind of cash on hand? Even if you’re heading back to school after working full time for a while, you probably haven’t tucked away enough to cover the tab.

Join the Crowd
Before you give up on college because you don’t have the money, here’s a thought: Approximately two-thirds of the students enrolled in college right now didn’t have the money either; they got to college with financial aid, and you can too. And don’t think you’re too old: Students at any age can qualify for federal and private loans to cover a very wide array of postsecondary education.

That’s not to say it will be easy. There’s a limited amount of financial aid available, and the competition for it is intense, so you need to move quickly. Get over your “sticker shock” and start shopping — now! Don’t fret about how much college costs; focus instead on how you can get someone else to help pay for it. There are lots of options to choose from, but you’ll need to spend some quality time with a computer figuring out which are right for you.

Explore Your Options
Navigating the financial aid maze looks hard until you realize there are really only two basic kinds of student financial aid:    
    1. The kind you don’t have to pay back
    2. The kind you do

In category 1 are scholarships and grants — what’s generally referred to as “gift aid.” These dollars are yours to cover education expenses; they do not have to be repaid.

In category 2 are student loans. Whether the money comes from a public source like the federal government or a private one like the bank where you have your debit card account, these are dollars you borrow to cover the cost of tuition and other college expenses. One day, you will have to pay them back.  

Within each of these categories are tons of funding options, and the good news is you don’t have to pick just one. You can create your own, just-right-for-you financial aid package by mixing and matching a variety of components. Snag a scholarship here, a federal grant there, then add a low-interest loan to make up the difference and voila! You’re on your way to college.

One Form Fits All
Completing the FAFSA (short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the place to start your quest for financial aid. It’s required for any federal aid, including loans, grants and work-study jobs. And, when you fill out the FAFSA, you’re automatically applying for funds from the state of Florida and possibly your school, too. In fact, some schools won’t even consider you for aid of any kind — even academic scholarships — until you’ve submitted a FAFSA. So do it online now at www.studentaid.ed.gov