By Sarah Wright
Find schools that offer these popular programs
The Education Department's Student Aid Website
If you're returning to school after a long hiatus, you might feel that there's a huge mountain of knowledge that you'll need to summit in order to get from where you are now to a secured, paid-for position at a college or university. Each individual school has their own admissions process, but the financial aid process is fairly standard, which is good, because it can get pretty confusing.
The most important thing to know is that you are more than likely going to have to fill out the FAFSA - the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This will help schools determine what your financial need and aid eligibility is. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Education has a pretty good website that can steer you through the process of getting your college education paid for. You can navigate the site step-by-step for an easy tour of the financial aid world. The site also has a special section for returning students that might help answer some questions you have about the general process of going back to school.
Step 1: Understanding Costs
This section of the site explains how much college typically costs. Additionally, you'll learn more about how your financial aid package is determined.
Step 2: Get Money for School
If you want to cut to the quick, this might be a fine section to start on. Here, you'll learn about federal aid eligibility guidelines and learn about the different kinds of aid, including grants, loans, work-study and other sources of financial aid. You can also follow links for tips on ways to save money as a student.
This section also provides a link to the FAFSA, which, as we mentioned above, you'll need to fill out in order to get aid. It also links to the FAFSA Forecaster, which can give you some insight into the kind of aid you might be eligible for. This page also gives you tips and information on what you can do and expect after you've submitted the FAFSA.
Step 3: Repayment Plans and Calculators
Though you'll have some time before you need to start repaying loans, you should still be aware of what the rules and regulations surrounding repayment are. It's better to know this kind of stuff ahead of time so no unpleasant surprises rear their heads when you least expect it.
Financial aid is a concern for some students for reasons other than its complexity.