Q: I will be attending college next year and am a little confused on financial aid for college. I know I will need help paying for my college, but can I get both financial aid and student loans? Or are these the same things?
A: Financial aid for college, is an encompassing term used to refer to any source of money used to pay for educational expenses that does not come directly from your own pocket. The most common forms of financial aid for college are student loans, grants, scholarships, stipends and/or work study programs. If you are new to financial aid for college, please check out the video tutorials on scholarships and FAFSA on the CollegeWhale home page.
Scholarships, grants, stipends and/or work study are all forms of financial aid for college that do not have to be repaid, because of this, these are the types of financial aid that you are going to want to exhaust first. To learn more about student loan alternatives visit our Loan Alternatives section. Student loans (both federal and private) are forms of financial aid for college that will need to be repaid.
The federal government is the largest source of college financial aid for students in the US. You should always start your financial aid search by applying for government financial aid programs, which will take advantage of your federal aid eligibility. The federal government will offer many different types of financial aid for college, including types you will not have to repay (such as grants and work study), and types which you will have to repay (such as federal student loans).
When it comes to student loans, the federal student loan programs are typically the cheapest since they offer low and fixed interest rates. Federal student loans are based on your financial need, so you will not need to pass a credit check to qualify. You will not be obligated to repay most federal student loans until 6 months after you graduate from college, and you will have the most flexible payment postponement and repayment options with federal loans. To get started applying for federal student loans you must file a FAFSA, which can be done free online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
If federally funded financial aid for college is not enough to cover your educational expenses, you may choose to look into a private student loan. Private student loans are unsecured bank loans, and borrowers are only granted these type of loans if they have the income and/or positive credit history requirements to to meet the lenders standards. Some college students may not qualify on their own for a private student loan without the help of a creditworthy cosigner.