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.
Non-traditional students include those people who are returning to college after a prolonged absence, or those students returning for specific training for career advancement. Often women returning to college after raising a family, or single parents pursuing career advancement through education will fall into this category. Non-traditional students may also refer to those students who are changing from a technical school to a four year college or university.
There is a good chance that say the equity in your home and/or some other components of your net worth and income will be held against you in the calculation of your SAR (summary of the financial aid you can expect to receive) of your FAFSA. This does not mean, however, that there are not ways to reduce the financial burdens of the college education expenses.

Before considering any form of education loan, students need to investigate possible grants for which they may be qualified. Grant money for college never has to be repaid, and there are a wide array of grant programs designed to benefit every kind of student, and every course of study. Thousands of organizations, both public and private, have grant money to award to students who are struggling to cover the costs of their college tuition.


We all hear horror stories about how much college costs now -- and will cost in 10 or 20 years (tuition increases between four and seven percent annually).That said, it's not too late to find a way to make paying for college manageable -- not easy, but manageable. Just remember one thing: Paying for college is a family affair. Parents and students must work together to make college affordable. Obviously, the earlier you start, the easier it will be. However, it's never too late to make a difference.
Almost all of our grants (listed above) are awarded to students with financial need.  If you are interested in our grants, or in any federal student aid, you have to start by submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form. You have to fill out the FAFSA form every year you’re in school in order to stay eligible for federal student aid. Once you’ve done that, you’ll work with your college or career school to find out how much you can get and when you’ll get it.
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:
You’ll need a good reason to appeal your financial aid. For instance, if your circumstances changed between when you received your financial aid package and the time school starts. Maybe your sibling decided to enroll in college at the last minute, your parent lost a job, or there’s been a family financial emergency. You might also be able to appeal for more financial aid if you’re in an abusive family situation.
If you’re a noncitizen without a Social Security card or had one issued through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, you should fill out the California Dream Act Application found at caldreamact.org. You don’t need to fill out a FAFSA form to be eligible for California student financial aid. Contact the California Student Aid Commission (csac.ca.gov) or your financial aid administrator for more information. Additional forms might be required. Applicants are encouraged to keep a record of their submission by printing out their online FAFSA confirmation page or obtaining proof of mailing the FAFSA form.
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