Financial Aid Basics

Those that can pay for college or post-secondary training completely out of pocket are the lucky few. If you’re part of the majority of prospective students that will need help to pay for college, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn what financial aid exists, and how you can be eligible to receive it.

Types of Aid

There are several types of financial aid, with different eligibility requirements. Here is an overview of your options:

  • Federal Financial Aid: Federal financial aid money is given out by the Federal government to students who qualify, based on their financial need. In general, you’ll need to be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen attending a program that is approved by the Department of Education, in order to receive this aid. Federal aid money comes in a few forms. Pell grants are given to those with the greatest economic need; these do not need to be repaid. Work-study money allows students to earn wages at a job while in school. Low-interest loans accrue interest and have to be paid back following graduation. The FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the form students fill out to determine their federal aid eligibility.  
  • State-Based Financial Aid: Like the Federal government, state governments sponsor their own financial aid programs. These may be based on financial need or merit. Some states give out scholarships to all graduating seniors attending an approved state program, who have a particular GPA or standardized test score.
  • Smaller Government Programs: There are a few other Federal programs which also give out aid to eligible students. Many of these programs are for military members or veterans. The AmeriCorps program offers aid to students who commit to performing community service, and the Department of Labor sponsors a listing of Federal jobs for current students.
  • Private Scholarships: Hundreds of private scholarship programs also exist throughout the U.S. this money is given out by corporations, local organizations, individuals, and foundations, to students who meet their criteria. Check with your school or local library for information about available local scholarships.

Understanding Your School’s Financial Aid Program

The other major source of aid for most students is their school’s financial aid program. Different colleges and schools have different methods for dispersing aid. Some colleges commit to covering all of a student’s college costs, beyond the expected family contribution determined by their FAFSA form. Other schools have more limited resources, and provide a selection of grants, merit-based scholarships, and loans. Some institutional grants have special guidelines students have to follow in order to keep the aid they receive, such as maintaining a certain GPA. Contact your school’s financial aid department for more information on the aid that would be available to you. (studentaid.ed.gov)

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