What Is Financial Aid?

After "Will I get in?" your next question may be "How will I pay for it?" One answer is financial aid. Here's what it is and how to get it.

The first step toward getting financial aid is becoming well informed on how to qualify and how to apply for it. Once you understand these basics, you will be off to a good start.

The Types of Aid Available

College financial aid comes in several forms: grants, scholarships, loans, and jobs. Some aid is "need-based," which means colleges award it solely based on your and your family's ability to pay for college. Other aid is "merit based," which means colleges award it based on other factors, such as academic achievement.

Some Types of Aid Reduce College Cost and Some Don't

The great divide in financial aid is "gift aid" vs. "self-help aid." Only gift aid actually reduces your college cost. Self-help aid doesn't. Instead, it helps you pay for college using your own resources.

How to Qualify for Financial Aid

How to Get Need-Based Aid

You and your family must submit your financial information to colleges via the government's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some colleges ask for an additional aid application called the CSS/Profile.

Using the information from one or both of these applications, colleges calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is how much you and your family will be expected to pay out-of-pocket for one year of college. Colleges calculate your financial need annually, so you will need to reapply for aid every year of college.

How to Get Merit-Based Aid

Colleges that offer merit aid generally offer it to students whose GPAs and test scores put them in the top third of the current freshman class. But other factors, such as strength in the arts or sports, may also lead to awards. The application process may be as simple as checking a box on the admission application or may require filling out a separate application.

What's Next?

Note: Financial information provided on this site is of a general nature and may not apply to your situation. Contact a financial or tax advisor before acting on such information.