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Paying for college is not easy. To help out high school graduates and their families, there are many different sources of financial aid to help pay for private universities. Here’s what every incoming college student and their family needs to know about the financial aid process for private universities.

1. Begin early

It is never too early to begin the financial aid process. Students are eligible to apply for scholarships once they enter high school, and should begin applying for various grants and awards sponsored by their school and local town. Beginning in the fall of 2016, students who fill out the 2017-18 FAFSA will be able to submit their application as early as Oct. 1, 2016. See our FAFSA guide.

2. Understand the different types of financial aid

There are several different types of financial aid available at private schools to students and it is important to understand them all.

  1. Scholarships and grants: Students may receive scholarships or grants. These do not need to be paid back.
  2. Work study programs: Students may qualify for a work-study program. They can get a job on campus to help cover expenses while attending college.
  3. Student loans: There are several federal and private school loans that students can use to pay for the remainder of their tuition and school expenses.

3, Fill out your FAFSA

FAFSA stands for The Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is an application used by nearly all colleges and universities to determine eligibility for federal, state and college sponsored financial aid including scholarship and grants, student loans and work study programs.

This is the first step in receiving financial aid for secondary education. You will need to fill out your FAFSA application and enter in the school code for the school you will be attending. The Department of Education will determine your family’s Expected Financial Contribution (EFC) after doing a financial analysis.

4. Speak with your high school about scholarships available

Although you are getting ready to move on from you high school, they may have some opportunities for you to receive additional aid for college. Speak with your guidance counselor about the various scholarships that are unique to students attending your high school. Find out if you qualify for any and what you can do to apply.

5. Be in contact with your university’s financial aid office

Stay in close contact with your university’s financial aid office throughout the entire financial aid process. They can let you know of missed steps or necessary documentation. Speak with your financial aid representative about any scholarships that are specifically available for your major. Don’t forget to check in with them as the semester progresses because new scholarships come in year round and they can always be applied to upcoming semesters.

6. Seek out student loans to cover the gap

After receiving all grants scholarships and federal aid available you may still have an additional expenses that need to be covered. Now is the time to look into both federal and private loans to cover your remaining tuition and expenses. There are a variety of loans available so do your research to find out what best suits your needs.

If you are interested in getting a private student loan or refinancing your existing student debt, visit Credible.

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