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Early Decision- If the student knows, without a doubt, the college she wants to attend, she would apply  for early decision in November and the college would let her know by December or January if she got in. This is binding, so she can't apply to another college as early decision. This tells the college, that it is her first choice. She can also apply to other colleges but under the regular application process. Once she is accepted, and the financial aid package is adequate, she can rescind her application from the other institutions.

Early Action- Students who apply early action, can apply to many colleges under the same status, and it is not binding. However, the student must let the institution know by late spring if they will attend or not.

Financial Aid-
College scholarships, federal aid, loans, and outside sources of scholarships are all considered financial aid.

In order to get an idea of what you can afford, go to College Board where it provides you a planning guide on what to expect. The enrollment is free and it has a wealth of information on scholarships, standardized tests, and how to prepare for college.

Other scholarship websites are:


I included both of these because the College Board list was missing a few that I knew were available like the Gates-Millennium Scholarship. I suggest that you enroll in all three (it's free) so that you cover all possibilities. 
A Is for Admission: The Insider's Guide to Getting into the Ivy League and Other Top Colleges has some helpful information regarding the college application process. Another useful guidebook is Getting IN by Standing OUT: The New Rules for Admission to America's Best Colleges.

Federal assistance: This application may change with the Obama/Biden administration. They want to eliminate the form and just have individuals select an option on their tax form to apply for federal student aid. This would make a parent's and student's life much easier.

Veteran assistance: Post 9/11 GI bill goes into effect August 1, 2009. This new bill will pay tuition and fees, books and a monthly housing allowance at the rate of the most expensive public university. This can also be used toward a graduate degree. But remember, it will only pay up the rate of an undergraduate public university. The rest will have to be paid by the veteran. The funds will also go directly to the institution. Any excess funds, the institution would pay to the veteran. To qualify, the veteran must have served at least 3 months in active duty after 9/11/01. The benefits only cover educational training on or after 8/1/09 not before. Highlight: the veteran can transfer this benefit to spouses and their children. There are certain limitations (up to the age of 26 for the child) and the VA should have this set in stone soon.