Separating Fact from Fiction about College Financing

Small wonder that today's parents are petrified by college costs. The reality of all those bills is frightening enough, but many parents feel a keener sense of dread because they don't understand how financial aid works. They only know what they hear. One friend says that middle-income people never get anything, so don't even bother applying. Another tells about a next-door neighbor whose daughter got a full scholarship. Announcers blare about tuition and fees topping $30,000 a year - then commercials advertise billions of unclaimed aid waiting for the lucky parent who looks beneath the right rock. Most people can reconcile themselves to paying huge bills, but the nagging thought that money is out there, somewhere, if only you knew how to find it...That's enough to drive anyone crazy.

Here's a pain reliever guaranteed to work on your financial aid headaches in five minutes - without a prescription.

FICTION: The Financial aid process is like a scavenger hunt for scholarships hidden in dusty corners.
FACT: 95 percent of aid comes through colleges, the federal government, and the states.

If you want financial aid, your first move is to learn about colleges and their aid policies. Some offer only need-based aid; others give hundreds of merit scholarships and talent awards. The most expensive colleges tend to combine a high price tag with hefty aid packages. Other colleges may have lower sticker prices, but then pile on the loans or do not fully meet need. In addition to doling out their own money, the college aid offices provide points of access for most federal and state money.

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