Unfortunately this is how the financial aid process goes for millions of families across the nation. The rising cost of tuition has brought this issue to the forefront of almost every family's decision when deciding which college to attend. Finding money for college can seem like a daunting task but it does not have to be. There are many places to look for financial aid and while this list is not exhaustive it will give you some great places to start looking.
The United States Government
The best place to look for financial aid is the Federal Government. You should visit the FAFSA website and submit your Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA). This one application qualifies you for all types of federal financial aid. This is the application that you should submit to qualify for the Pell Grant, Stafford Loan, Perkins Loan, and the College Work-Study Program.
Next you should look to your prospective school for institutional financial aid. Many schools, especially larger schools and Ivy League schools, have large endowment and scholarship programs that provide financial aid funds to their students. Many of these endowments are based on merit and look at your admissions application information. Many others require a separate application to be qualified for their funds. You should consult your prospective school's financial aid office to determine your eligibility and the application process for these funds.
Does your mother work for GE? Are you a male and over 6'4? Are you an athlete? Can you write an essay? All of these criteria are sources of external scholarships. Scholarships are available in the most unlikely places if you are willing to search hard to find them. You can try your parent's employers, local libraries, high school guidance counselors, and college financial aid officers for prospective scholarship opportunities. You may not qualify for all of these opportunities but I guarantee that you can find some that you do qualify for. A good place to start is Fastweb, as they are the leading provider of external scholarship opportunities.
This should be your last resort for finding funds to pay for college expenses. You should first look into the Stafford and Perkins loan programs. Most major college and universities participate in these loan programs. They are the best because the interest rates are low, the funds are guaranteed, the repayment terms and very generous, and there is even a chance that they will forgive a portion of your loan! If you have exhausted these two loan programs and still need funds then you can apply for private student loans. This is the bottom of the barrel, but it is much better than a credit card in a pickle!
Hopefully this has given you some inspiration to go out there and find some money. There are lots of other places to look but these are the most important and will help get you started on your search to find more money for college!