HIGHER EDUCATION Now's the time to apply for financial aid

The first step in getting college aid is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
WASHINGTON -- High school seniors and others applying for federal financial aid for the 2002-03 school year can begin the process now, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige says.
"There is more federal assistance available now than ever before, and we've worked to make the application process easier for students. Our trained staff also is available to provide assistance and answer questions so that all eligible students can get the aid they need," Paige said.
This year, an estimated $49.4 billion in federal grants, loans and work-study opportunities will be awarded to an expected 8.2 million students. Each year, some 10 million applicants file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
What's available: Financially needy students may qualify for grants or federally subsidized loans where the government pays the interest while the borrower is in school.
However, most students are eligible for unsubsidized loans. Currently at 5.99 percent, these low-interest loans offer an affordable financing option, Paige said.
Paige also noted that a number of President Bush's initiatives to help families afford college, such as full student loan interest deductibility and an increase in tax-free contributions to Education Savings Accounts, are now available.
"Federal student aid programs can ease the financial burdens that keep some students from pursuing a college degree or training," Paige said.
Paige said the new No Child Left Behind Act, signed by the president Jan. 8, offers all students, especially students from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds, the opportunity for the rigorous academic preparation through high school they need to succeed.
"Together, these efforts will offer all American students the opportunity to achieve prosperity and stability," he said.

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