How Financial Aid Calculators Work

Want to get your degree from Harvard University? First you might need to determine how much money you can find through financial aid programs. See more college pictures.
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A college education can get you ahead in your career, but it can set your bank account balance back, too. Depending on the school you choose, it might set you so far back that you'll spend years of a good-paying career just trying to pay back what you owe. But with the assistance of online financial aid calculators, you can crunch numbers and outline a strategy that will maximize your savings and prevent unmanageable debt.

Planning for college expenses is no simple task, whether you're saving for your child's education or just balancing a variety of costs so that you can get a degree of your own. The reasons are simple -- college, quite simply, is a pricey proposition. A single year of tuition at Harvard University, for example, goes for around $33,000, and that's not counting room and board. Even if you're not interested in an Ivy League school, your education will cost you. Out-of-state tuition at Iowa State University goes for nearly $17,000.

In other words, secondary education in the United States is a serious investment that demands intelligent number crunching. Financial aid calculators can help. But there isn't just one category of calculator. There are dozens of versions that help you wade through issues on cost, needs analysis, loans, budgeting and even awards letter comparisons. The differences between the calculators may create frustration and cause more problems than they solve.

However, by picking and choosing the calculators you need for your specific financial situation, these tools really will speed up your planning process. They can help clarify murky money issues and pinpoint areas where you need help. Keep reading to see how these calculators work and how best to use them to your advantage.