Like a home or a stock portfolio, a college education is a significant investment, one that typically takes years if not decades to pay off. Financial savvy is therefore as essential a skill as the ability to solve for two variables or to write a term paper.
Fortunately, much as they do for math and English classes, resources exist for beleaguered students who find themselves at sea -- which is not a happy place to be, considering the fact that debt service seldom meets with completely calm waters.
The financial aid journey of course begins with the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). A completed FAFSA helps federal lenders assess the applicant's eligibility for the types of aid available. Grants and loans are the two types of federal aid, with the second being the one most frequently awarded. The fact that grant awards, which is money students do not need to pay back, depend on pretty severe demonstrable need, most students of middle-class backgrounds must content themselves with a loan.
In addition to federal loans (loans issued by the government) there also exist private loans, which are issued by banks and credit unions. Of the two types of loans, federal loans are preferable, because they generally have reasonable fixed interest rates and easier payment terms. Private loans tend to carry interest rates that fluctuate according to changes in the prime rate, and their payment terms tend to be a bit more stringent.
Unless they can demonstrate true independence students under 24 years of age must include their parents' income on their FAFSA. This will of course affect how much of a loan will be offered them, the expectation being that parents will contribute to the student's education costs (their marital status notwithstanding).
It goes without saying that anything that's borrowed will need to be repaid. And such is the case with student loans. Students should therefore include this eventuality in their college plans. They should, for instance, decide whether a 4-year degree is ideal for them or a 2-year degree or certification would be better. After all, the shorter the time in school, the fewer the amount of money that needs to be borrowed.
Also bearing on plans is the type of institution students wish to attend. There are 3 major categories of higher-education institution -- for-profit private, nonprofit private, and public or state -- each with different tuition rates, fees and surcharges, residency requirements, and matriculation paces. Student should thus do their homework on any schools they've shortlisted.
Where to attend college is a major decision, perhaps one of the biggest many individuals will make in their lives. Such a momentous event therefore requires a thorough command of the facts, as concerns both the school in question and the financial means by which attendance at that school is to be realized. This holds for students of all stripes and career paths. Whether the desired area of study is that of computer security or nonprofit organization, financial literacy 101 is a most definitely a universal prerequisite.