What It Is

What is higher education?

Higher education is any school you go to after high school. You might go to a college or university. You might go to a community college. You might go to a career school. All of those are higher education.

What is the difference between a college and a university?

A college is a school you go to after high school. You can get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree at a college. You can get a degree in many different majors. Many students live on or near their college campus.

A university is also a school you can go to after high school. You can get an associate’s, bachelor’s, or graduate degree at a university. Universities usually have even more majors than colleges do. A university is usually bigger than a college. Many students live on or near their university campus.

Colleges and universities can be private or public. Colleges and universities also can be non-profit or for-profit.

What is the difference between a public college or university and a private college or university?

A public college or university:

  • gets money from the state where it is located. That money is used to run the school.
  • might cost you less if you live in that state. You might pay less in tuition.
  • can be very big. It might have 10,000 to 40,000 students.
  • can have big classes. Some classes might have more than 300 students.
  • might have more choices for what you can major in.

A private college or university:

  • does not get money from the state. It needs tuition and donations to run the school.
  • might cost you more. You might pay more in tuition.
  • can be smaller. Some have 1,000 students.
  • can have smaller classes.
  • might have fewer choices for what you can major in.

What is the difference between a non-profit college or university and a for-profit one?

A non-profit college or university:

  • is not owned by anyone.
  • mainly wants to help students learn.
  • offers many different majors.

A for-profit college or university:

  • is owned by a person or business.
  • usually is organized to make money for its owners.
  • often focuses on a few majors or areas of study.

What about community colleges?

A community college is a school you can go to after high school. It usually gets money from the state where it is located. Students usually do not live on a community college campus. That helps make school less expensive for you.

Community college students can get an associate’s degree. Sometimes, students can get a license or certificate for a job. Many community colleges help you transfer your class credits to a college or university.

You might go to a community college full-time. Then you usually can get an associate’s degree in two years. You might go to community college part-time. Then it can take you longer to get an associate’s degree.

What is a career school?

A career school trains you for a skilled job. Sometimes, career schools are called trade schools. You sometimes can get a license or certification from a career school or trade school in one or two years. Some community colleges also can give you a license or certification.

What is a license or certification?

A license or certification shows that you have the training or skill to do a job. You might need one to get a job in some fields. First, you might study in a school. Or you might get experience on the job or as an intern. Then you usually have to pass an exam. That shows you meet the standards for that license or certification. Most licenses and certifications are only good for a set time. Then you have to renew them.

What is a major?

When you choose your major, you are choosing the course of study. The major you choose decides the classes you must take. For example, you might be a business major. Then you will take a lot of business classes. And when you graduate, you will have a bachelor’s degree in business.

What is a degree?

You get a degree by finishing all the classes for your major. An associate’s degree says you studied for about two years to finish those classes. A bachelor’s degree says you studied for four or five years to finish those classes.

What is tuition?

Tuition is what you pay to go to a college, university or career school. It pays for the classes you take. Some schools charge for a year or semester. Some schools charge by the class. Some schools charge by the unit or credit.

What are room and board?

Room means where you live. Board means what you eat.

  • You might live in a dormitory on campus. You might have a meal plan that lets you eat at places on campus. That means you pay the college for your room and board.
  • You might live in an apartment off campus. You might buy and cook your own food. That means you pay your own expenses for room and board. That might be cheaper. But there might be more surprise expenses.

What is financial aid?

Financial aid helps you pay for your higher education. It is money that can help you pay for:

  • tuition
  • fees
  • room and board
  • books and supplies
  • transportation

Where can I get financial aid?

Usually, you have to apply for financial aid. You can try to get financial aid from:

  • the federal government
  • your state government
  • your college, university or career school
  • private or non-profit groups

What is a student loan?

It is money a student borrows for college, university or a career school. You have to repay your loan with interest.

  • Federal student loans come from the federal government. You repay them after you leave college.
  • Private student loans come from a bank, a credit union, or sometimes the school. You often have to start repaying while you are still in school.

Are there other kinds of financial aid?

Yes. Besides student loans, you can apply for:

  • Grants. You do not have to repay grants. You can apply for grants from:
    • the government
    • your school
    • private groups

These groups usually give money to people who need it to go to school.

  • Work-Study. This is a federal financial aid program. It gives you a part-time job while you study. The money you earn helps you pay for school.
  • Scholarships. You do not have to repay scholarships. You can apply for scholarships from:
    • the government
    • your school
    • many private and non-profit groups

What is the FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is the only way to apply for federal student aid. It is free to apply. You must fill out your FAFSA form every year that you are in college, university or career school.

Other groups use your FAFSA form to decide whether you get financial aid. They include:

  • states
  • your college, university or career school
  • private groups that give financial aid

Fill out your FAFSA form at fafsa.gov. It is free.

What is an FSA ID?

FSA ID stands for your Federal Student Aid Identification. It is a username and password that you create. You use your FSA ID to:

  • get into the Federal Student Aid system.
  • fill out your FAFSA form.
  • legally sign your student aid documents.

Only you can create and use your FSA ID. Nobody else can create your FSA ID for you. Nobody else can use your FSA ID. Never share your FSA ID with anyone else. Dishonest people could use your FSA ID to get into your account.

What is a credit history?

Your credit history describes how you use money:

  • How many credit cards do you have?
  • How many loans do you have?
  • Do you pay your bills on time?

If you have a credit card or a loan from a bank, you have a credit history. Companies collect information about your loans and credit cards. Companies also collect information about how you pay your bills.

What is co-signing a loan?

When you get a loan, you promise to repay the money. Someone who co-signs your loan promises to repay the loan if you do not. Sometimes, a bank or credit union asks you to get a co-signer. That can happen if you do not have a credit history. Or it can happen if your credit history is not good. The Department of Education calls a co-signer an endorser.

What is interest?

Interest is what you pay for using someone else’s money. You might get a loan or a credit card. You repay money to whoever gave you the loan or credit card. But they also charge you interest for using their money.

Loans and credit cards have different interest rates. Look for the “APR.” APR means annual percentage rate. It is how much interest you pay during a whole year.

A lower interest rate means you pay less money. A higher interest rate means you pay more money. For example, a loan with a 2% interest rate costs less than a loan with an 18% interest rate.

What is a variable interest rate?

A variable interest rate means that your interest rate will change. Sometimes, your interest rate will go down. Then you will owe less money. But sometimes your interest rate will go up. Then you will owe more money.

What is a repayment plan?

This is a plan to repay your student loan. Do you have federal student loans? Some repayment plans are based on how much money you make.

What is a loan servicer?

Your loan servicer is the company that collects your student loan payments. It is also the company you talk to if you have questions or need help with your student loan. You might have a federal loan. Your loan servicer will still be a private company.

What is loan consolidation?

Loan consolidation means combining more than one loan into one new loan. Some people combine several student loans. That way they only have one payment every month.

What is forbearance?

Sometimes, you might have a problem repaying your student loan every month. You can ask your loan servicer to let you stop repaying your loan for a short time. You also can ask to repay less money for a short time. If the loan servicer says yes, that is forbearance. But the money you owe in interest keeps adding up while you are in forbearance.

What is loan deferment?

Deferring your loan means postponing your loan payments. A loan deferment is like forbearance. You have to ask your loan servicer if you can stop paying temporarily. You will need to give a reason for a loan deferment. Maybe you are back in school, in the military, or unemployed. But if you defer some loans, your interest might not add up while you are in deferment.

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What To Know

Why should I go to college?

If you get an education from a college, university or career school, you will probably:

  • make more money.
  • have more job options.

I know what kind of career I want. How do I choose the right school for me?

Different kinds of education and training help you with different careers. Look for a school that has the education you need for the career you want.

Check MyNextMove.org to find out what kind of training, certification or license your career needs. You also can ask an employer in your field. Ask the employer:

  • What training do I need to get hired in this field?
  • Where can I get that training?

Then check CollegeScorecard.ed.gov to learn more about the schools you are thinking about.

Make sure the credits for your classes will transfer to another school:

  • Call your local community college or university.
  • Ask if they would take credits from the school you are thinking about.

Also decide how you can pay for the school you choose. Find out more about financial aid before you choose a school.

I do not know what kind of career I want. How do I choose the right school for me?

Look for a school that has a mix of majors or specialties. Check CollegeScorecard.ed.gov to learn more about the schools you are thinking about.

Make sure the credits for your classes will transfer to another school:

  • Call your local community college or university.
  • Ask if they would take credits from the school you are thinking about.

Also decide how you can pay for the school you are interested in. Find out more about financial aid before you choose.

What else should I look at when choosing a school?

Many people think about the cost of a school. Some people think about the kind of life they will have at a college, university, or career school. Think about these questions:

  • Do you want a big or a small school?
  • Do you want a school where you can live on campus?
  • Do you want a school near your home?

Then look at CollegeScorecard.ed.gov to learn more about the schools you are thinking about. Look at:

  • The cost.
    • How much money will the college, university or career school cost you each year?
    • For how many years?
    • How will you pay for that school? Does the school offer financial aid?
  • The graduation rate.
    • How many students graduate?
  • How much money can you expect to make after you leave that school?

I have seen ads on TV for some schools. Do all schools advertise?

No. Most colleges, universities, and community colleges are non-profits. That means they use their money mostly to educate their students. The schools that advertise a lot are mostly schools that are businesses. Those schools usually are organized to make money for their owners. Some of that money goes to advertising to get more students.

A school guaranteed that I will get the kind of job I want. That is good, right?

No. It is not good. No college, university or career school can guarantee that you will get a job. No one can promise you a certain salary. Anyone who does is lying to you.

Some schools make those promises so that you will sign up. Signing up is also called enrolling. Those same schools might:

  • pressure you to enroll.
  • rush you into a decision.
  • pressure you to borrow money to pay for your education. 

I have GI Bill benefits. What do I need to know?

Servicemembers, veterans and their families have special education benefits. Go to Vets.gov/Education to learn about:

  • help paying tuition.
  • help finding the right school or training program.
  • career counseling.

Sometimes, schools promise servicemembers and veterans a lot. They might care more about getting your tuition benefits than about your education. Check out a school’s claims before you sign anything.

Go to Vets.gov/GI-Bill-Comparison-Tool. It will show you what your GI Bill benefits will get you. It will also tell you about the schools you are interested in.

Learn more at MilitaryConsumer.gov/Earn.

How do I pay for college, university or career school?

Many people borrow money to go to school. Some people’s parents borrow money to help them. But you also can apply for grants and scholarships.

First, find out:

  • does the school offer financial aid?
  • does the school charge for:
    • each course?
    • each semester?
    • the whole program?
  • how much does the school cost for:
    • the year?
    • the whole program?

Next, find out the fees to drop classes or graduate. Also find out the cost for books, equipment, uniforms, and labs.

Then you know how much money you need. Now you can start looking for financial aid.

Where can I get financial aid?

Start at StudentAid.gov. It is the Department of Education’s website to help students with financial aid. It has information on financial aid from:

  • The federal government. Federal student loans, grants, and work study often are the best deal for people who need money to study.
  • The state where you live. Some states have financial aid you might qualify for.
  • The school you go to. Some schools offer financial aid or scholarships.
  • Scholarships or grants from non-profit or private organizations. This is money you do not have to repay.

How do I apply for financial aid?

You use the FAFSA form to get financial aid. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You find the application at fafsa.gov.  It is managed by the Department of Education.

At fafsa.gov, you will create an FSA ID. That stands for your Federal Student Aid Identification. The FSA ID is a username and password.

  • You must create your own FSA ID yourself.
  • You use it to get into the Federal Student Aid system.
  • You need it to fill out the FAFSA form.
  • You use it to legally sign your student aid documents.

Never share your FSA ID with anyone else. Dishonest people could use it to get into your account.

The FAFSA form is the only way to apply for federal student aid. But states, colleges, and many private and non-profit groups also use the FAFSA. They use your FAFSA information to decide how much financial aid you can get.

Your FAFSA is free. You do not pay for the form. You do not pay to fill out the form. You do not pay to submit the form. Dishonest people sometimes try to charge you for the FAFSA form. Never pay to apply for financial aid with your FAFSA form.

Fill out your FAFSA form for every year that you are going to be in college, university or a career school.

When do I fill out my FAFSA form?

The Department of Education puts out the new FAFSA form every year. It is ready on October 1 for the next school year. There are different deadlines for different financial aid programs. Many deadlines are in January, February or March. Be sure you check so you do not miss a deadline. Check for every year that you are going to be in school.

Fill out your FAFSA form as soon as you can. Sometimes, groups start deciding on financial aid as soon as they get applications. If you wait, you might miss some money.

A company offered to help me with my FAFSA form. Will that get me a better deal?

No. Nobody has special access to federal student aid. Anyone who says they can guarantee you financial aid is lying.

Remember that it is free to fill out and submit your FAFSA form. You do not need to pay anyone to apply for financial aid.

Someone might ask you to share your FSA ID. They might say they can help you:

  • apply for aid.
  • reduce your loan payments.
  • consolidate your loans.

Only you can use your FSA ID. People who ask you to share your FSA ID know they are breaking the rules. They will not help you. Never share your FSA ID. Dishonest people could use it to get into your account.

Are you worried that someone else is using your FSA ID? Call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).

The Department of Education sent me an offer for a student loan. Is that a good deal?

No. The Department of Education did not send you that offer. The Department of Education does not send mail to ask people to apply for a student loan. Anything you got claiming to be from the Department of Education was a scam. Throw it away.

Someone promised me a scholarship or grant. That’s good, right?

Not if you have to pay for it. Dishonest people might guarantee you a scholarship or grant. Dishonest people might tell you that you already have a scholarship or grant.

But then, those dishonest people will:

  • tell you there is a fee to collect your scholarship.
  • ask for your bank account or credit card number.

Someone also might ask you to pay for:

  • special access to a list of scholarships.
  • a seminar on financial aid or scholarships.

They might offer you a money-back guarantee. But you will not get your money back. Never pay for a scholarship or a grant. That is always a scam.

I have a few different offers for school and financial aid. How do I decide what is the best choice?

Some people choose their college, university or career school because of what they can study there. Some people choose their college, university or career school because of the cost. 

Are you trying to decide which will be the best deal for your money? Use this cost calculator. It lets you put in your financial aid offers. Then you can compare.

The school I want to go to costs more than I have. Their financial aid offer was not enough. Is that it?

Maybe. But maybe not. You can try to talk to the school. Start with the financial aid office and the department where you want to study.

  • Tell the school it is your first choice.
  • Tell them you cannot afford to come there.
  • Ask them if there are scholarships or other aid you can qualify for.

Did you get a bigger scholarship from another school? Tell your first choice school about the other offer. Ask your first choice school if it can match the offer.

You might not get more money. But it is worth trying.

I never borrowed money before. What do I need to know?

You have to repay all the money you borrow. You also have to pay interest on the money you borrow. Always know how much money you are borrowing. Also, be sure you know:

  • What is the loan’s interest rate?
  • When do you have to start repaying the money?
  • How much will each payment be?
  • How long do you have to repay the loan?

I will need student loans. What do I need to know?

Many people borrow money to pay for college, university or career school. You have to repay all of your loans. You will pay interest on the money you borrow.

You will submit your FAFSA form. Then your college, university or career school will tell you if you qualify for loans, grants or work-study from the federal government. Federal student loans are a better deal for most students than private loans.

Private student loans come from:

  • a bank
  • a credit union
  • a state student loan agency
  • sometimes, the school

Every loan has different terms. That means these things might be different:

  • the interest rate, or APR
  • when you have to start repaying
  • how much time you have to repay all the money

What is good about federal student loans?

A federal student loan comes from the federal government. The Department of Education is in charge of federal student loans.

Federal student loans:

  • have a fixed interest rate. That means the interest rate does not change.
  • have interest rates that are often lower than private loans. That makes them less expensive.

When you apply for a federal student loan, the government:

  • usually does not check your credit history before they lend you money.
  • usually does not ask someone to co-sign your loan.

You start repaying most federal student loans after you leave school. You also start repaying your loans if you go to school less than half-time. When you start repaying:

  • you have different ways to repay your loans. These are called repayment plans. Some repayment plans are based on how much money you make.
  • you can combine your federal student loans for free. That is also called consolidating your loans. It lets you have one loan payment every month.
  • you can sometimes put off paying your loans. This is called deferment.
  • you can sometimes get your loan forgiven. That means the government repays the loan for you. You sometimes qualify if you work in public service or as a teacher.
  • you can get help figuring out repayment at StudentAid.gov/repay or by calling your loan servicer.

What about private student loans?

Private loans come from:

  • a bank
  • a credit union
  • a state student loan agency
  • sometimes, the school

Private loans:

  • can have higher interest rates. Some have an APR of more than 18%. That makes them very expensive.
  • can have variable interest rates. Those are interest rates that can change. That means you might owe more money.

When you apply for a private loan, the lender:

  • often checks your credit history before they lend you money. Your credit history decides if you can get money, and your interest rate.
  • often asks someone to co-sign the loan. Your co-signer is responsible for repaying the loan if you do not.

You might have to start repaying your private loan while you are still in school. When you start repaying your private loan, you:

  • usually cannot put off repaying your loan.
  • have to pay to combine – or consolidate – your private loan with other loans.
  • can rarely get your loan forgiven, or repaid for you by someone else.

I have federal student loans. How do I repay them?

You start repaying your federal student loans when you leave school, or when you go less than half-time. You will get a message from your loan servicer when it is time to start paying. A loan servicer is the company that collects your payments and answers your questions about your loan. Not sure who your loan servicer is? Go to StudentAid.gov/login and log into your Federal Student Aid account.

You can choose a repayment plan. There are different options for you to repay your loans. Learn about your options at StudentLoans.gov/repay.  

I have private loans. How do I repay them?

The bank, credit union, or school that you borrowed from is your lender. Your lender will tell you when it is time to start repaying your loan. You might have more than one private loan. That means you might repay more than one loan at a time.

Many private loans have to be repaid while you are still in school.

I have more than one federal student loan. Can I combine them into one payment every month?

Yes. You can combine several federal student loans into one loan. That is called a Direct Consolidation Loan. It is free to combine your federal student loans into one loan.

Sometimes, companies might ask you to combine your federal student loans. These companies might charge you a fee. You do not have to pay to consolidate your federal student loans.

Do you have questions about consolidating your loans? You can call the Department of Education’s Loan Consolidation Center: 1-800-557-7392.

Tell me more about consolidating my loans.

You can combine, or consolidate, your federal student loans for free.

For example:

  • Maybe you have four federal student loans.
    • You will start repaying all of them after you leave school.
    • That means you will have four loan payments.
  • Then you consolidate your four federal student loans.
    • Now you have one loan payment every month.
    • The terms of your consolidated loan will be different than your original loans. Your interest rates and terms might be different.
    • It is still a federal student loan. It has all the protections of a federal student loan.

Companies sometimes want you to consolidate your private loans with your federal student loans. Do not do that. That consolidated loan is a private loan.

For example:

  • You want to consolidate three federal student loans with one private loan.
    • You cannot consolidate them into a federal student loan.
    • You can consolidate them into one bigger private loan. You might pay fees to consolidate the loans.
    • Your student loans are now a private loan. They do not have federal student loan protections anymore.

You often can consolidate your private student loans. That will give you one monthly payment. It often costs money to consolidate private loans.

I cannot afford to repay my loan now. What do I do?

Do you have a federal student loan? You can ask your loan servicer about a different repayment plan. That might help you afford your payments every month.

Maybe a different repayment plan does not help. Then you can ask your loan servicer to take a temporary break from paying your loan. You can talk to your loan servicer about:

  • Forbearance. Forbearance lets you pay less money or stop paying for a short time. The money you owe in interest keeps adding up while you are in forbearance.
  • Deferment. Deferment lets you stop paying your loan for a short time. Sometimes, the money you owe in interest does not add up while you are in deferment.

Do you have a private loan? You can talk with your lender to see if it can help you.

Is there a way I do not have to repay my whole loan?

Do you have a federal student loan? Sometimes, the government will repay some of your loan. That is called loan forgiveness. The government sometimes repays the rest of the money you owe on your loan if you work for the public sector or you work as a teacher.

You have to apply for loan forgiveness. There are strict rules and deadlines. Go to StudentAid.gov/forgiveness before you start repaying your loans.

Do you have a private student loan? Ask the lender if it offers loan forgiveness. Loan forgiveness is rare for private student loans.

I got an offer to help me repay my student loans. That’s good, right?

Some companies:

  • promise to lower your monthly loan payments
  • promise to reduce the total amount you owe
  • promise to forgive your debt
  • tell you to pay them and they will make your payments

Sometimes these companies use a seal that looks like a government seal. Or they might have a name that sounds official.

Here are two important things to know:

  • It is illegal for a company to charge you before it helps you deal with your debt. These companies can charge you – and they will. But never pay before you get help.
  • You can get help with your student loans for free. Start at StudentAid.gov to learn more.

 

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What To Do

Going to a college, university or career school can help you get the career you want. You might make more money and have more freedom. But it is important to choose the right school for you. And it is important to know that you can afford to pay for that school.

How do I know I’m getting a good career school, college or university?

Do research before you choose a school. Check CollegeScorecard.ed.gov. Learn more about the schools you are thinking about.

Be sure class credits from the school you like will transfer to another school.

  • Call your local community college or university.
  • Ask if they would take credits from the school you are thinking about.

Figure out how you can pay for the school you choose. Find out more about financial aid before you choose a school.

How do I pay for college, university or career school?

Go to StudentAid.gov. Learn about:

  • Choosing a school.
  • The kind of financial aid you can apply for.
  • How to apply for financial aid.

Then use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is also called the FAFSA form. You find the application at fafsa.gov.  It is managed by the Department of Education.

The FAFSA form is the only way to apply for federal student aid. States, colleges, and many private and nonprofit groups also use your FAFSA information to decide how much financial aid you can get. It is free. Do not pay for your FAFSA form. Fill out your FAFSA form for every year that you will be in school.

Any tips on repaying my student loans?

Go to StudentAid.gov/repay.  Do this before you start repaying your loans.

Some companies might offer to help you repay your student loans. Here are some important things to know:

  • Only scammers promise quick loan forgiveness.
  • Never pay a fee up front for help.
  • Scammers can fake a government seal.
  • Do not share your FSA ID with anyone.

 

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