You are absolutely correct.....the world of financial aid is very confusing. Without going into it all too deeply.....grants and scholarships are generally money that does not need to be paid back. If you can get these, you are in luck. Two of the best sites for grants and scholarships are:
Pretty much unless your parents are rich, you will need a loan of some kind. Absolutely, positively, the first thing you should do is go fill out the FAFSA which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid which can be done at:
They will send your school a package which will include Stafford Loans which are the best, because they are subsidized by the federal government. Once your school receives the package, make an appointment and go in to speak with a financial aid advisor.
Private loans are not nearly as good of a deal as federal loans are, but for many, they are the only way to make up the difference as federal loans have limits. If you decide that you need a private loan, check out all the ones out there at:
I would personally suggest a Think Student Loan which can be applied for at: http://www.thinkfinancial.com
Good Luck and most of all, choose a school that isn't going to break your bank. For most people, a degree from a cheap school is just as effective as one from Harvard so find the most inexpensive school that has the degree you want.
Hope this has helped and Good Luck.....college is expensive but worth every penny if done correctly.