Here is the bad news—College is soul-crushingly expensive.
Here is the good news—You have a few debt-destroying weapons at your disposal.
Do not fret about the cost of college, my precious. Shmoop is here to arm you with enough expertise to make you a college finance ninja: weapon of choice—financial aid. Before we get into where to find financial aid, young grasshopper, let's talk about what it is:
Financial aid is any monetary program designed to help you pay for college. While most people think scholarships and grants are the only help available for starving college students, the truth is that financial aid comes in a very wide variety of flavors including student loans, work-study programs, loan forgiveness, tuition waivers, academic reciprocation agreements, teaching assistantships, research fellowships, co-op programs, and the list goes on. If you are not sure what all of those things are, don't sweat it. We'll get to all that later. For now, just know that there's more than one way to skin a cat and there's definitely more than one way to get help paying for college.
Before we get into where to find financial aid and the eye-gougingly awful process of applying for it, let's debunk a few financial aid myths. (Digression: Disproving college finance myths won't be as cool as busting any of these myths, but it will save you beaucoup bucks):
Myth #1: Financial Aid is Free Money
Truth: Some financial aid is free money, but the vast majority of aid programs out there will require some effort on your part, whether that is maintaining a certain GPA to keep a scholarship, figuring out how to pay back student loans after college or landing a job that will pay your student debt for you. Finding and keeping financial aid will require you to read the fine print and understand exactly what's required of you before accepting any form of college cash as well as staying on top of the mountain of application deadlines.
Myth #2: You Can Only Get Financial Aid During Your Senior Year of High School
Au contraire. Sure, seniors are inundated with scholarship applications (because you guys do not have enough on your plates already), but students as young as high school freshmen and even graduates long out of college are eligible for financial aid. In fact, the earlier you start searching for financial aid, the better. Competition for scholarships aimed at high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors is substantially less than those aimed at high school seniors.
Myth #3: Only Straight-A Students and All-Star Athletes Get Financial Aid
Ha! Financial aid is available to everyone. We mean everyone. Every single student under age 24 who still relies on their parents for fiscal support is eligible for at least $31,000 in student loans according to the Department of Education. The ugly truth behind financial aid is that more than 1.5 million students miss out on free grants every year because they think they are not smart enough, skilled enough or needy enough to actually win money.
In Shmoop's Guide to Financial Aid, we will go through the different types of aid available, where to find free college dollars and secrets for winning the aid award of your dreams. Before we jump to it, we've got to talk about how much college really costs. Bear with us...