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Nitro Knowledge. Your Guide to Paying for College.


Many prospective students focus their college search on public universities, not private schools, because state universities typically charge much lower tuition. But, despite the higher tuition, a private college or university isn’t always more expensive – and sometimes costs significantly less.

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The U.S. Department of Education provides more than $150 billion each year in grants, loans and work-study opportunities to help eligible students pay for college. To take advantage of these programs, you’ll first need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Both the government and individual schools use the information from your FAFSA to determine your eligibility for financial aid.

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After schools have processed your information from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and school-specific financial aid applications, you will begin receiving financial aid award letters. If you plan to attend college in the fall, these letters typically arrive in April. When you read your financial aid award letters, you should keep a few things in mind as you determine which school offers the best financial aid package – and the best value.

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Choosing between federal and private student loans isn’t always an easy call. They each have their own benefits and drawbacks. To decide which is the best for your personal circumstances, you need to know what your options really are.

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When it comes to financing your college education, you’ll likely be offered federal and private loans as part of your financial aid package. So, what’s the difference? Federal student loans are funded by the federal government, while private loans are provided by another lender — such as a bank, credit union, state agency or school. Typically, federal loans will give you more benefits and flexibility — so consider these first. 

Throughout this article, we’ll provide you with a detailed view of federal vs. private student loans and when you should ideally borrow each of them.

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Federal student loans have maximum amounts you can borrow on both an annual basis and a degree basis. In addition, loan limits vary based on the type of federal student loans borrowed.

Here’s what you need to know about federal student loan limits:

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