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Grants and Scholarships for High School Seniors

If you're the parent of a high school senior, you're probably wondering how on earth you are going to be able to send your child to college.

The cost of a college education is rising more rapidly than any other expense category in the country, including the cost of health care. In the last 30 years, median wages have increased by a mere 16%, while the cost of college is up over 250%.
America's college students are graduating into the worst job market in decades, and these same graduates are waking up to the real world buried under a mountain of student loan debt. Graduate average wages have actually dropped by over 5% since 2000, while typical student loan monthly payments have increased by 300%. 
All of these factors combine to make a college education a necessity, but one that you really need to consider carefully, in order to get the best value for your money.
Does it make sense to go to an expensive college and graduate with a crippling burden of student loan debt? Or does it make more sense to go to a less expensive college that maybe does not have the same level of prestige and reputation?
One thing that you and your student can do is seek out financial aid, which comes in many forms.
First, you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and submit it.  This is the document by which the federal government and the schools will evaluate your need for financial aid. 
Financial aid comes in several forms - grants (which is truly "free money", that you don't have to pay back), scholarships (also do not have to be paid back), student and parent loans, and work-study programs.
The most famous is the Pell Grant, which is available for students who have not already earned a four-year degree. The amount awarded is need-based, and the maximum amount is currently $5500 per school year.
Secondly there are scholarships, which are offered by all sorts of organizations. Your first offer will be from the college to which you were accepted; some schools offer need-based aid, some offer merit-based, and some a combination.
Private scholarships are one of your best options. They are awarded to students from businesses, local community groups, non-profit organizations, and even from individual people. You have to seek out scholarships and apply to each one separately. Many are targeted to a particular sort of person (religious, ethnic, skill-set) so you will not be eligible for all of the ones that you find. But there are millions of dollars available, and many students do not seek them out, so you have a good chance of winning one.
Student loans are, of course, loans, which must be paid back. Usually the repayment period begins six months after you have graduated, and you can ask for a deferral if you are not working yet. You can also get your monthly payment lowered if you are not making much income. Some loans are subsidized by the federal government at a reduced interest rate from the rate that you would pay to a commercial bank.
The last type of aid, which requires the most effort on the student's part, is a work-study program. In this situation, the student is guaranteed some kind of part-time job on campus, so that he can earn some money to help with expenses. This, of course, takes away study timeArticle Search, which must be considered when you choose this option.
There are many websites out there that provide helpful information about where to look and how to apply for financial aid and scholarships. Be sure that you do not get suckered into paying for information - it is all available for free.

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One terrific place to start is Free Grants Community, where other high school students who are looking for financial assistance can share their tips and experience.

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