(BPT) - Heading to college is an exciting adventure. While schools everywhere may look and feel a bit different than how they've been traditionally or family finances may be up in the air, it's still important to explore your options.

'Make a plan to pay for college, so you're ready when school begins,' said Brittany Mills, Assistant Manager of Education Lending at Navy Federal Credit Union. 'That means knowing what's available through scholarships and grants, work-study programs, federal student loans, and private student loans.'

Getting your finances in order

Funded by the federal government, federal student loans only have fixed rates and may come with different benefits than loans through private sources, such as income-driven repayment plans. You'll first need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is available every year on October 1. Once processed, your college's financial aid office will let you know how much federal aid you'll receive.

Private student loans, on the other hand, are offered through financial institutions like credit unions and banks. There are fixed and variable rates available for private loans. The financial institution will decide if you qualify for the amount requested based on creditworthiness.

Choosing a co-signer

If you think you may not get approved for a student loan on your own, consider applying with a co-signer who's willing to assume responsibility of the loan along with you. Having a creditworthy co-signer, such as an eligible family member or friend, can help increase your chances of loan approval.

'A cosigner may be released from their loan obligation once the borrower has graduated and made 24 consecutive, on-time payments,' added Mills.

Borrowing the right amount

'After you submit the FAFSA and know how much federal student aid you'll qualify for, research private student loan options as a way to help fill any gap in funding for your education-related expenses,' said Mills. 'Many colleges can give you a list of lenders they consider having a good track record too.'

It can be hard to know if you're borrowing too much or too little, especially in the current environment. But, once your lender approves the loan, your school will certify your loan amount based on the cost of attendance, as well as any scholarships and financial aid that you were awarded.

Bottom line: Paying for your education can be doable with these expert tips in mind.

Navy Federal is federally insured by NCUA.

This sponsored article is presented by Brandpoint.