If you have decided to go to college or career school, one big concern you may have is the cost of education. It can be challenging to think about paying for tuition and expenses while holding down your regular job and paying your everyday bills.Relax! Most accredited career schools and colleges offer financial assistance programs for students who qualify. These may be federal programs, state programs, or sometimes even programs offered by the schools themselves. Types of financial assistance fall into two categories:Loans (money that you have to repay);Grants and scholarships (money that you don’t have to repay).Generally, grants and loans are determined by your income level, while scholarships are often awarded competitively or to individuals with certain qualifications. It may seem complicated. Don’t worry! Many schools have highly qualified financial assistance staff members who are glad to help you. If you are starting your college search, here’s what you’ll need to do:1. Log onto a reputable college search website. Choose the colleges or technical schools that match your requirements. You can search for colleges in a certain geographical area (like Los Angeles or Wisconsin), colleges that offer programs in academic areas (such as business or liberal arts or culinary), or you can search for degree levels (certificate, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree). You can also search for online programs; many colleges offer the same financial aid opportunities for online students as for those who attend a traditional campus.2. Contact the admissions department of the schools you’re interested in. Ask them about financial assistance. Don’t be shy-they want to help you! Most people who go to college apply for financial assistance. It’s a perfectly normal thing to do.3. The most common forms of student financial aid are federal loans. You have to pay them back. Low-interest loans may also be available from private sources. But be careful! If you take out a loan to pay for college, make sure you read the contract very carefully and you know what it will cost you in interest and fees.4. If the school is approved for federal loan programs, the financial assistance officer will ask you to go online and fill out a standard form called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can check it out for yourself at www.fafsa.ed.gov. This is the form that nearly every federally approved school uses.5. Once you’ve filled out the FAFSA application, in a few days you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). Your SAR will summarize the financial information you reported on your FAFSA. You should check the SAR carefully to make sure it is accurate. In the upper right corner, look for your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your school will use your EFC to help determine the financial aid for which you may be eligible.6. Your financial assistance officer at the school may also help you identify other sources of financial aid. There may be scholarship or grant opportunities, offered either by the school or by your community. If the school offers institutional aid in the form of scholarships or grants, you will be asked to fill out the CSS Profile. It is similar to the FAFSA and involves an online form that asks you about your family finances. The information used by the CSS Profile is used by colleges to determine how much institutional financial aid they will offer you. The amounts can range from nothing to one hundred percent of your tuition. In fact, Harvard University recently announced that families with incomes less than $60,000 a year will not be expected to contribute anything for their child’s undergraduate college costs. The University will award the student a grant (which does not have to be repaid) equal to the cost of attending Harvard. Of course, to get awarded a Harvard grant, you have to be accepted into the University. For the class of 2013 the undergraduate acceptance rate was seven percent.You’ll see that scholarships can come from many sources. An automotive trade school may have a scholarship provided by an automobile manufacturer. A business college may have a scholarship provided by a successful alumnus, or a generous donor. Your own community may have scholarship programs sponsored by churches or civic organizations such as the Rotary Club. The key is to keep digging, and to use the resources provided by your career college.You should go online yourself and search for scholarships, but be careful to avoid scammers who ask for a fee. There’s plenty of free information out there and you should never have to pay a fee!Your very last resort when paying for college should be your credit card. If you use your credit card, you are in effect taking out a short-term high-interest loan. Most student loans are low-interest (two or three percent) while your Visa or Mastercard may charge you as much as twenty-five percent. There is no way you’ll be able to pay off the balance without incurring huge interest charges. Don’t do it. Find some other way to pay for college or postpone your plans until you can afford to not use your credit card.How do you get started?The best way to research your options is to go online to a free college directory website like the one below. You can enter the search terms that are appropriate for you (such as “medical assisting, Miami, Florida,” or “online business degrees”). You’ll be presented with free information about the programs that meet your criteria. Compare features such as financial aid, career services, and flexible schedules. Narrow down your choices and make your application. In less time than you think you could be training for a rewarding new career.