StudentAid.ed.gov: This website will answer all of your questions about federal student aid. It is common advice to first check out all federal options available to you before looking at private options. Definitely, you want to obtain as much scholarship and grant money as you can, because this money isn’t loan money- you don’t have to pay it back! Federal loans can also help out with interest, through subsidized loans and rates.
You can find scholarships through this site. There are explanations of the types of scholarships available, how to find scholarships, how to apply for scholarships, when to apply for scholarships, and information about the way scholarships affect the rest of your student aid. Scholarships are not only offered through the government; they are available through schools, employers, religious and non-profit groups, as well as through individuals. The trick to getting scholarships is to start your search early and apply for as many as you can. This site can give you a head start.
There are also grants available. This is free money too. The Federal Pell Grant is available to students in need of financial assistance. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is awarded to students with an even greater financial need. The TEACH grant is available to people who are interested in becoming elementary or secondary school teachers and are willing to serve in a high-need field. The Iraq and Afghanistan grant is for students whose parent or guardian died in military service in Iraq or Afghanistan. If any of these are applicable to you, make sure to make use of them.
The awarding of scholarships and grants can be merit-based or financial-based. Students who show exemplary skill, ability, and high grades are often awarded scholarships based on these things. Students who have financial need are given grants according to their level of need. Grants and scholarships do affect the other aid available to you. You cannot exceed your school’s COA- cost of attendance.
Once you obtain all the financial aid you require, you can focus on school and studies. It is only after you graduate that you need to be concerned with the loans you had to take out to cover the costs above and beyond what your scholarships and grants covered.
If you have a number of loans, from a number of lenders, you can consolidate them into a single, more manageable loan. This can have the benefit of a lower interest rate, especially if your credit has improved since the time you first took out the loan. Credit score is the leading factor in obtaining a low interest rate.
You can use an online consolidation calculator to determine if your monthly payment would change enough to warrant consolidating your loans. If it would be a considerable difference, then it might be worthwhile to pursue. You can apply for loan consolidation online, over the phone, or by printing a paper application and mailing it.
The ideal benefit of loan consolidation is getting a lower interest rate on your combined loans. Although it is nice to have one bill instead of many, this does not make consolidation necessary. The other main benefit to consolidation is lowering your payments by lengthening your term, but this results in more interest paid, so should be done with the intent to pay the debt off early. There is no fee for prepayment on a consolidated student loan.