Private student loans: Financing from private lenders might also be listed in your financial award letter, or you can find it on your own. Using federal student loans first is often the best move, Randolph said. However, “if you still need money to bridge the gap between financial aid and the cost of attendance, you’ll have to look at private student loans.”
It can also be helpful to understand how the Federal Student Aid Office uses the information on the FAFSA to decide how much aid each student gets. The financial details are used to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This is the Federal Student Aid office’s estimate of what your family should reasonably be able to pay toward college costs, based on these factors:
Grants for college students fall across two broad categories, depending on what eligibility requirements are attached to the funds.  Need-based grants are issued to students exhibiting the greatest levels of financial hardship in paying for college. On the other hand, merit-based grants are tied to performance-like good grades and other personal achievements.
College costs have exploded over the past decade, increasing by a massive 33 percent from the 2004-2005 school year to 2014-15, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. For today’s average student, 70 percent of colleges are more expensive than they can afford. But while college is more expensive than ever, family incomes and college savings rates have not kept pace.
Students ineligible for federal aid but who meet state financial aid program and residency requirements should complete the Washington Application for State Financial Aid at readysetgrad.org/wasfa instead of the FAFSA form. Contact the Washington Student Achievement Council (readysetgrad.org/wasfa) or your financial aid administrator for more information.
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