Welcome to that time of the year when many parents are knee-deep in a high school senior's preparing to apply to college. And many financial planners and others in the college-consulting arena are besieged with questions from eager parents and students relating to money. How do I get financial aid is the hue and cry!

It is said that the best things in life are free. That may be true to some limited--very limited--extent, but when it comes to college, it has no standing. Finding money for college is one of the most nerve-wrenching aspects of the entire college application matter; to say it is a necessary evil would indeed be an understatement.

However, before you step off blindly into the labyrinth of the area known as "Financial Aid," you should not forget that unless your name is Rockefeller or Gates, there really and truly are funds available to you in different forms to help pay for this schooling. In fact, more than $30 billion was available last year alone to aid students. That's one of the reasons why I don’t believe in ruling out any particular school based solely on its costs. Many people have placed their children in fancy, private schools and paid less than if the student had been enrolled in a state school. Money is definitely available but what you must know is where the sources are.

When we talk about financial aid, we are referring to those funds needed to meet all college costs: tuition, fees, room and board (if applicable), books, even transportation. You should also understand that financial aid comes in three forms and you can get it all from either one source or from any combination. They are:

Grants/Scholarships: These are sometimes called "gifts." They are awarded based upon certain criteria such as academic achievement or need, and do not have to be repaid.

Loans: These come from lending institutions and of course, do have to be repaid but usually after the student finishes college and at an extremely low interest rate, not to mention on extraordinarily favorable repayment terms.

Employment: This covers the student being employed part-time at the college. It's sometimes called the Work-Study Program.

Keep in mind that last year, almost four million students received aid in one form or another. And, you don't have to be destitute to evidence financial need. "Need," by the way, is considered the difference between what it costs to attend a particular college and what you and the student can afford to pay toward those costs. Remember that students usually are eligible for financial aid equal to the amount of their demonstrated financial need.

I encourage you to check with the specific college for what scholarships or grants are available. This is vital. For example, one well-known college lists a mind-boggling nine pages of scholarships. Each college's catalogue will list in detail a myriad of special grants to which the student may apply. The interesting aspect here is that many students never apply for such monies and many of these awards lie dormant from year to year.

Also, check with the high school to see if the student qualifies for any of the scholarships offered by local clubs or community agencies.

In other words, leave no stone unturned.

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