Applying for college is an exciting – but often stressful – time for students and their families. It can also be very costly and the financial aid process can be overwhelming, too. Below, you’ll find helpful resources and links to learn more about how to approach the financial aid process.
For a comprehensive listing of services and resources, please click here for the Congressional Research Service’s latest report on student aid.
- Getting Started: Best Practices
- Student Aid and Where It Comes From
- Targeted Aid for Specific Groups
- Interested in Public Service?
- Repaying Your Loans
Getting Started: Best Practices
- Start gathering information early.
- Free information is readily available from:
- High school counselors, college and career school financial aid offices (where you plan to attend)
- Local and college libraries
- Federal Student Aid (U.S. Department of Education)
- Other Internet sites search terms student financial aid OR student financial assistance
- Ask questions: counselors may know if you have exceptional circumstances that affect your eligibility.
- Keep copies of all forms and correspondence: you must reapply for aid each year .
- Parents: start saving early.
- Good overviews:
- Beware of scholarship scams — don’t pay for free information!
Student Aid and Where It Comes From
Basic assistance categories:
- Financial need-based: Remember that students and their parents are responsible for paying what they can — financial aid is a supplement, not a substitute, for family resources.
- Non need-based: Factors include academic excellence, ethnic background, or organization membership. Corporations may also offer assistance to employees and children.
Completing the FAFSA
- The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form necessary to complete in order to get financial aid for college, career school, or graduate school.
- Application is available October 1st with varying deadlines by state or institution.
Federal Student Aid:
- Provides nearly 70% of student aid under Loans, grants and work-study programs.
- Available to all need-based applicants; some loans and competitive scholarships for non need-based.
- Free information from the U.S. Department of Education:
Loans are the most common federal aid and must be repaid when you graduate or leave college:
- Stafford Loans
- Federal PLUS Loans for parents and graduate students, not need-based.
- Perkins Loans for need-based undergraduates, through participating schools.
Scholarships/grants are mostly need-based and require no repayment:
- Pell Grants
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants ( FSEOG )
- “Congressional” scholarships :
Work study programs allow you to earn money while in school:
- Federal Work Study Program: college campus jobs
- USA Jobs: Welcome Students and Recent Graduates: jobs with the federal government
- If you have questions that are not covered by the U.S. Department of Education Web site, please call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243.
States offer residents a variety of scholarships, loans, and tuition exemptions.
- Check with your state higher education agency and guarantee agency.
- Consider prepaid tuition and college savings (“Section 529”) plans: College Savings Plans Network.
- Search your Internet browser under terms such as “student financial aid” or “student financial assistance” AND your state.
Colleges and universities provide some 20 percent of aid, mostly need-based.
- Check university web sites and the institution’s financial aid office when you apply for admission.
Private foundations, corporations, and organizations offer scholarships or grants:
Targeted Aid for Special Groups
- Grants for Minorities
- African Americans: Scholarships
- Students with Disabilities: Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities
- Foreign students: Financial Aid for International Students
- Hispanic Americans: Scholarships
- Financial Aid for Law School: Law School Admission Council
- Medical students: Association of American Medical Colleges
- Native Americans: American Indian College Fund
- Study abroad (for U.S. and non-U.S. citizens): International Financial Aid
- Veterans: Education Benefits
Interested in Public Service?
Federal assistance programs seek to encourage people to work in geographic areas or professions where there’s a particular need (such as doctors in underserved areas); encourage underrepresented groups to enter a particular profession; and provide aid in exchange for services provided (such as military service).
- AmeriCorps Education Award
- Volunteers who complete one year of service receive an education award for current higher education expenses or to repay student loans.
- Army Tuition Assistance
- Additional benefits for Army personnel.
- Bureau of Health Workforce
- Scholarships and loans to needy health profession students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
- Indian Health Service
- Scholarships for American Indian/Alaskan Native health profession students and loan repayment for persons working in IHS facilities.
- Military academies: students pay no tuition or fees, and receive a salary while you are attending
- National Health Service Corps
- Scholarships and loan repayment for health profession students who agree to work in underserved areas.
- Nursing Scholarships
- Offered in exchange for two years of service in areas with critical nursing shortages.
- Reserve Officers Training Corps ( ROTC ): For students who want to be commissioned as officers after graduating from college.
- USA Jobs: Welcome Students and Recent Graduates
- Employment, internships, cooperative education, scholarships, grants, and fellowships with federal agencies.
Repaying Your Loans
After college, the federal government has ways to help you repay your loans.
- Eligibility depends upon the type of loan, when it was made, and whether it’s in default. Check with your loan officer to find out if you qualify.
- Loan Consolidation: combine your federal loans into a single loan with one monthly payment.
Sometimes loans may be canceled in exchange for public service.
- Teachers: Cancellation/Deferment Options
- Health professions: National Health Service Corps
- Law school graduates: Student Loan Repayment and Forgiveness
- Federal employees: Federal Student Loan Repayment Program
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Student debt repayment assistance
Information prepared by the Congressional Research Service.