As in the Applying to College section, there are excellent, student and parent friendly websites devoted to the topic of financial aid. The links below will direct you to the Federal Department of Education's website. In order to qualify for student aid, you MUST complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). After inputting all of your family's financial information, you will receive a number called the EFC (Expected Family Contribution). This is the amount that you should expect you and your family to pay to the college each year. If the EFC is lower than the cost of the tuition, the college usually supplies the rest of the money through loans and grants. All of this information can be explained better through the Department of Education's website, which are linked below.
CollegeBound Center Note: A university degree is by far the best investment you can make. That being said, it can also be one of the most expensive, but it doesn't have to be! Besides doing well in your courses, the next most important thing for you to do is MINIMIZE THE AMOUNTS OF LOANS YOU TAKE OUT! This isn't free money! Minimize the amounts of loans that you have to take out by living off campus in a cheap apartment (or at home), buy a used car, buy used books from Amazon or Half.com, and have a part-time job. Student loans are helpful in a pinch, but you will hate them when you are ten years out of college still paying them off. Here is a list of colleges and universities with the highest student loan debts (spoiler: they are not the colleges you would think would have the highest debt): Washington Post Listing.
Private schools are expensive and they are not all created equal and the price tags for them may be a shock. Cost is definitely something to consider, but keep in mind that some of the most elite schools (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Rice) have excellent financial aid packages. For students that have earned their position in these schools and come from families that make less than a certain amount ($60,000 in some cases) you are in a great position to graduate with minimal debt. These schools put a cap on the amount of loan debt that students graduate with, once you reach that amount, the rest of your student aid is made up by grants! Here is a link with the colleges and universities with the best financial aid: CBS News Listing.