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Get Ready for the FAFSA

January is fast approaching and that means it's time for high school seniors to apply for college financial aid for the upcoming school year.

Federal financial aid is available for students attending four-year, two-year, public or private, career or trade schools. The aid is intended to cover school expenses such as tuition, room and board, books and other supplies, and transportation. Most students receive the aid because of financial need.

Students can receive financial aid in the form of grants, loans or work study. Grants include Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants. Loans include Federal Stafford Loans (made to students) and PLUS loans (made to parents). There are also direct loans, Perkins Loans, and the Federal Family Education Loan. Work-study programs provide jobs, usually on campus, so students can help pay for educational expenses.

To find out about federal financial aid programs and your rights and responsibilities under these programs, read "Funding Education Beyond High School: The Guide to Federal Student Aid" from the Department of Education. You also can request a free paper copy by contacting the U.S. Department of Education at 1-800-4-FED-AID. The guide is available in English and Spanish.

Also, be sure to check out ACT's financial aid information and financial aid calculator. You'll find a good financial aid overview in easy-to-understand language, plus a list of contacts for more information on loans, scholarships, government programs and other resources.