The best time to finance your education is long before you even enroll in a college or university. However for many of us this simply is not possible. So how do determine what options are available?
First, check with the financial aid office at the institution where you plan to enroll. The counselors are well versed in the various programs available to help undergraduate and graduate students alike. You may qualify for grants, scholarships, and student loans. A good way to start is by submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You file the application and will receive determination about the types and amounts of aid you are entitled to, if any. The most common types of financial aid are PELL grants and Federally Insured Student Loans. These loans may be subsidized by the government to cover interest charges while you are enrolled in a degree or certificate program.
There are also specialized grants available for students who meet certain grade and income requirements. The one that I am most familiar with is the National Science & Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) grant. I received this grant and did not even know that the grant existed. The SMART program is for students with a GPA of 3.0 or above who are enrolled in certain technical programs deemed critical to national security.
For students who do not qualify for financial aid, private loans may be an option. These are educational loans available from financial institutions like banks and credit unions. You will need a good credit rating, however, to receive a private loan.
The most overlooked means to aid in financing an education are probably scholarships. There are literally thousands of different scholarships available and many of them go unclaimed every year. The funds can range from a few hundred dollars to enough to cover your entire program and living expenses. There are online resources to assist in searching for scholarships. FastWeb is a company that lists many of these scholarships and will send notifications to your email. Banks sometimes offer scholarships and many times they make no awards because of a lack of applicants.