Nowadays, a high school education isn't good enough to get a decent, well-paying job. Although there are always exceptions, most people find that they need further education to help launch their careers and make a decent living. Whether it's a four-year university or a community college, higher education may be the way to go.
However, career fulfillment comes with a price, and for many people the price tag of higher education can be a real shocker. For the 2009-2010 school year, the average price for tuition and fees at a public two-year college was $2,544. Public four-year colleges cost $5,930 on average, and private doctorate-granting universities cost $32,349 [source: College Board]. That's not even taking into account the cost of room and board, books, and transportation.
It doesn't help that these costs seem to creep higher every year. If you think college costs are getting beyond your financial means, you may not be wrong. In the last 10 years, the increase in tuition and fees at a public four-year university was nearly 5 percent per year [source: College Board]. How do people pay for it all?
Luckily, the U.S. Department of Education has many programs designed to help people who can demonstrate financial need pay for college and beyond. Through grants, loans and work-study programs, the government provides more than $100 billion to about 14 million students and families to help pay for education beyond high school, making it the largest provider of educational financial aid in the country.
Federal student aid can be used for a variety of postsecondary schools that participate in the Federal Student Aid program. These schools include:
- Four-year public or private educational institutions
- Two-year public or private educational institutions
- Career schools
- Trade schools
Students may use the money they receive to cover tuition, fees, room and board, books, supplies and transportation.
Next, we'll take a closer look at the different types of federal financial aid, starting with the kind you don't have to pay back.