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Headed for College : Financial Aid

College isn’t cheap, and you may need help paying for it. When it comes to financial aid, you’ve got two main options:

Scholarships and merit-based aid
Did you get good grades in high school? That ought to help. But even if the answer is no, there’s still plenty of opportunities – you’d be amazed at the sheer variety of scholarships out there. Do your research – there’s money waiting for you depending on where you were born, what your career goals are, what extracurriculars you’ve been involved in. David Letterman even has a fund reserved for C-students (though it’s probably best not to tank any finals just to get that one).

Student loans and need-based aid
If you’re not eligible for scholarships or merit-based aid (or if they don’t cover the whole bill), there are other options. Find out how much need-based aid you’re eligible for through your school or through a lender like Sallie Mae – there’s a standard formula for determining that amount. If that’s not enough, other institutions also offer financial assistance, though they may use different formulas, with different results.

Just be sure you pay attention to how the money comes to you. If it’s a grant, it doesn’t have to be repaid. Loans do have to be repaid, though, with interest, upon graduation (that’s, you know, why they’re called “loans”). If you’re going to go that route, shop around for a good interest rate – you’d be surprised how much difference a couple percentage points make in the long haul. To find out just how much, toss some numbers into our loan calculator below and see for yourself.

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