Yet the good news, says Diana Fuentes-Michel, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission, is that money is available to help -- and that many students, even those from middle- or higher-income families, are eligible for some kind of financial aid.
First, Fuentes-Michel advises prospective college students and parents not to panic when considering the cost of a college or university education, expensive though many institutions are.
Next, if there is even a remote chance that you will be interested in state or federal financial aid to help pay for that education, be sure to fill out two forms. One is a grade point verification form required for the state's Cal Grant program, which provides state grants for low- and moderate-income college students. The other, the main financial aid application for students nationwide, is known as FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid."I tell everybody to fill these out, regardless of income level," Fuentes-Michel said. "College is expensive, and you want to get everything you can to help pay for it."
Both forms, along with deadlines, detailed information about Cal Grants and many other types of financial aid, are available at the commission's websites, www.csac.ca.gov or www.calgrants.org.
Parents or students also may go to the first web address to order a free 44-page financial aid workbook from the commission. The booklet, "Fund Your Future," provides extensive information about grants, scholarships, loans and other aid.
Fuentes-Michel and other aid experts caution students, however, to be leery of websites or programs that seek to charge for scholarship or financial aid information, noting that most should be available at no cost.
Here are other helpful websites:
* www.fastweb.com and www.finaid.com, both subsidiaries of Monster.com, are useful for students seeking information about scholarships, loans, grants and other kinds of aid.
* The U.S. Department of Education's Student Guide is at www.ed.gov/students.
* The federal financial aid application is at www.fafsa.ed.gov.