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lanning to attend college" and "planning to pay for college" go hand in hand for today's graduating high-school students and their families. Now, there's help with both--some of it right on the World Wide Web.
       Higher-education costs are a growing concern for many freshmen, according to a 1996 survey of more than 250,000 college frosh by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute. A record 33% of them cited financial aid as "very important" in selecting a school--up from only 13% in 1976.
      If you'll be a high-school senior in the fall, it's not too early to start lining up your postgraduation plans.
Planning guidance on the web
Students and parents preparing for the future can get help choosing a career, selecting a school, and paying for higher education through Mapping Your Future, a new Internet web site. Mapping Your Future offers guidance about:
  • Planning a Career with information about career goals and planning, occupations, job-hunting tips, interview techniques, and resume writing.
  • Selecting a School with information about academic preparation for college, types of schools to consider, characteristics of schools, the admissions process, and standardized tests.
  • Paying for School describes options for paying for an education, types of financial aid (including scholarships, grants, and loans), applying for financial aid, and the financial aid process.

Which school can you afford?
While you might expect that attending school A will cost $11,000 more than attending school B, financial aid--especially federal financial aid--may narrow the gap. The U.S. Government awards more than $50 billion annually.
       When you apply for federal financial aid (application is free), the U.S. Education Department determines how much it costs to attend the school you've chosen and how much you and your family should contribute toward this amount. Financial aid usually funds the rest. Your school or college will use this information to make a complete financial award package, which typically includes the following:

  • Grants are financial aid gifts from the government and schools that you don't repay.
  • Scholarships are awards by community groups and schools based on special abilities or academic excellence.
  • Work-study programs offer students the opportunity to work on campus while taking classes.
  • Loans are available at special interest rates to help meet education expenses. You must repay them.

       Whether you attend school B, with a $7,000 price tag, or school A, costing $18,000, your up-front share is the same. Because grants and scholarships rarely cover the rest, expect to participate in a work-study program or take on student loans.
       But before you can get any federal financial aid, you have to apply. The financial aid process can seem complicated, so follow this simple checklist:

Financial Aid Process Checklist
Pick up a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The forms are available from high-school guidance offices and college and tech school financial aid offices. You even can download a copy from the Education Department's web site, which also offers information on how to complete the application. Select money matters, then student financial assistance, then FAFSA express.

Complete and submit your FAFSA. In four to six weeks you'll receive the results, called a Student Aid Report (SAR).

Sign the SAR to confirm that the information is correct, and take or send it to your school's financial aid office. The school will determine what aid you qualify for and notify you in an award letter.

Accept your financial aid package or speak to a financial aid officer about any special circumstances you might have that may qualify you for additional support.

If your school awards a Federal Stafford loan (either subsidized or unsubsidized), come to your credit union for an application.

       If you're a dependent student (if you're still claimed on someone else's tax form), your parents/stepparents may borrow under the Federal PLUS loan program even if you don't qualify for other financial aid. Refer them to the credit union for an application.

Is higher education worth the cost?
You bet! Although you may pay more for your posthigh-school education than your predecessors did 10 years or 15 years ago, the earning advantage of college graduates over those not earning college degrees also has grown substantially. According to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, a degreed college student in 1980 earned about 43% more per hour than a peer with a high-school diploma. By 1994, this earnings average had increased to 73% more.

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