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Helping with the high cost of higher education

By Staff
Staff reports
College costs are rising but higher education can still be affordable, thanks to more financial aid than ever before.
Last year, nearly 70 percent of students attending four-year colleges paid less than $9,000 in tuition and fees, according to the College Board. Many received financial aid, so they didn't pay the full "sticker price." Applying for aid early is important.
"Often, students wait too long to worry about financial aid and scholarships," Linda Peckham of the College Board's financial aid department said. "Many scholarships are available on a limited basis and if you wait too long, you may find yourself competing for money that's already been awarded."
Two kinds of scholarships are available: institutional grants awarded by colleges and universities; and outside grants awarded by other organizations. Institutional scholarships are usually based on merit, financial need or both.
To be considered for most student aid, applicants should use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Forms like the FAFSA and CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, which certain private colleges also require, can be filed online.
"The information you submit on the FAFSA is based on your tax information for the year ending on Dec.31. Many people do not file their taxes until April," Peckham said. "You should submit the FAFSA as soon after Jan. 1 as possible using estimated figures because if you wait until April, colleges probably won't have any grant money left."
For outside grants, students should research their eligibility. In certain cases, a student's location or a family member's job can qualify them for scholarships. Most outside scholarship programs have application deadlines in February or earlier. Some, like the National Merit Scholarship, require applicants to take the PSAT/NMSQT in October of their junior year.
More information about financial aid and scholarships are available in books like the College Board College Cost &Financial Aid Handbook 2006 and the College Board Scholarship Handbook 2006. Scholarship information can also be found online and with high school guidance counselors, who may know local organizations that offer scholarships.

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