Planning for college expenses is one of the biggest financial projects that a family can undertake. Four years of college can cost tens of thousands of dollars -- the average annual cost (tuition plus room and board) at private U.S. colleges is now $35,636 -- and it's increasingly easy to break into the six-figure range, especially for advanced degrees [source: Lewin]. Parents, you've probably wondered just how you'll afford to send your child to the college or university that he or she has dreamed about and earned the right to attend.

Low-income and disadvantaged students qualify for general need-based aid in most states that offer it, but specific funding is also set aside for students whose access to education is severely limited by social and financial conditions.  Exceptional hardship is calculated differently in each state, but the students whose circumstances present the greatest educational obstacles are the first to be considered for state grants.
Most college grants are designed to address the needs of students who are facing a financial shortfall in their college funding. That being said, a wide range of grant programs are dedicated to providing financial aid to students in more extreme circumstances. Grants for low-income students are specifically designed to address the financial needs of students from economic or socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Typically, these programs will be sponsored by state and Federal governments, advocacy groups and charitable foundations.
All college-bound students face enormous challenges when it comes to financing their education. Students who are fighting, or have survived, a serious disease face an additional emotional challenge as they plan for their college education. Many charitable organizations provide much needed financial support for students with severe medical conditions, helping them achieve their dreams of a higher education.
Loan programs – Such programs need to be paid back but offer help with low interest rates.  The Stafford Guaranteed Loan offers up to $6,625 per year.  The Perkins Loan program offers up to $3,000 and $5,000 a year for undergraduate and graduate students respectively. These loan programs come at very low interest rates so it is highly recommended you apply for them if you need the money for your education. The updated 2015-2016 fixed interest rate on these loans for undergrads is 4.29%; and the combined borrowing totals for direct loans can be up to $12,500 per year depending on your school year and degree.

You must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form allows you to apply for all types of aid. There are not separate applications for each type of aid. This form is all you will need to apply. The financial aid process is a lengthy one. The best advice is to get this form in as early as possible, as any delays may affect the timeliness of your award.
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