You may have thought that there were only two things we can be certain of – death and taxes.  But you forgot to include rising college costs.  Despite softer increases in recent years, the total expense at some private colleges - including tuition, fees and expenses, room and board – is more than $60,000 a year.  Do the math – for those big-ticket institutions that’s almost a quarter of a million dollars for the 4-year degree.  Most other private colleges and virtually all public colleges are less expensive, but the overall cost still promises to be quite formidable.

Not surprisingly, most students and their parents apply for financial aid.  The types of aid available, and the requirements to obtain it, vary from college to college, but for those students and parents just starting to explore this area, here are the basics:

- Most colleges offer financial aid of some sort, and the amount offered may be based on the level of demonstrated need (need-based) or achievement (merit-based).  The aid may come in various forms, for example, grants, scholarships, loans, or work-study arrangements, and may derive from various sources (college, government, bank, etc.).

- The differences:
Grant – this is, essentially, a gift that does not have to be repaid.
Scholarship – this, too, is a gift, usually based on achievement or need.
Loan – funds backed by the government, the college, the bank, or some other resource, will be provided, but you will be required to pay it back – with interest.
Work-Study – the student gets a funded job, usually on campus and part-time, and the money earned may be used for school expenses.

-         Not surprisingly, there are forms to fill out.  Most often the work is done online, but paper forms may be provided upon request.  Applicants will be required to show need, based in no small part on the information recorded on their tax returns.

-         One of the primary forms to be filled out is a FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid – along with other forms of the particular college. Some colleges may also require a form called a CSS/Profile, which provides additional need analysis.  For information about the FAFSA visit .  For information about the CSS/Profile visit .

-         The nuances and resources of financial aid may vary from college to college.  Students and parents should always check with the individual colleges to determine exactly what they require.

TIP#1 - NOTE WELL:  Some colleges, like the Ivies, have substantial endowments that permit offering significant financial aid, especially in the form of grants.  Students and their families should not shy away from applying to an Ivy League school simply because of the apparent high cost.  Often, the financial aid package will make the final expense lower in the end than many other colleges.

TIP#2 - Depending on the college, the initial financial aid offer may not be set in cement.  There may be some flexibility.  If you decide that you cannot attend the college because the financial aid package does not bring down the cost quite enough, do not hesitate to call the college to let them know that.  If possible, speak with the Director of Financial Aid directly.  Make it clear how much you want to enroll, how much you have been looking forward to it, how much it is such a good match – you and the college.  State your case politely but confidently, and ask if there is any way that the package can be improved in order to permit you to attend.

The people in financial aid know that the college admits only those students it wants.  It knows that the admissions office would like you to enroll.  And, so, in most cases, the financial aid office will try its best to find some way to improve the package.  But, in the event that it is not able to do so, at least you know that you – and probably the financial aid office – tried hard to make it happen.  But, no matter the outcome, if you have been accepted, the effort will begin only if you make that initial phone call to the financial aid office to tell them about your difficulty.

 When building a list of colleges to apply to, consider the costs, but do not immediately eliminate any college because it appears to be too expensive.  With a good financial aid package, the annual cost may indeed be manageable.

For a more complete look at the college admission process, see COLLEGE ADMISSION: A Simple, No-Nonsense Guide To Getting Into The College Of Your Choice. CLICK HERE