Financial aid refers to any aid a family receives to pay for college. It is made up of a variety of different sources but is usually seen in the form of merit-based scholarships or need-based assistance.
Merit-based scholarships may be awarded to a student who has outstanding academic achievement or talent. Need-based assistance is often seen in the form of grants, work-study programs, and loans. For more information about paying for college, check out the FinAid website.
Scholarships are gift aid and do not have to be repaid by the recipient. They are often awarded by colleges or universities, but can also be from churches, outside organizations and many other generous entities. This form of financial aid could potentially adjust a student’s need-based aid when applied to the student’s balance.
College-specific scholarships are usually awarded for academic merit, athletic ability, artistic talent and/or leadership. Each college has their own specific process for scholarships, so please be sure to check their websites for details on what they offer.
Outside scholarships are given by organizations outside of the university and are also gift aid. Popular examples are Boettcher, Daniels, and the Gates Scholarship. Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) is a number that reflects the minimum amount of money a family will be expected to pay per year for their student to attend any college when considering need-based aid.
Students could potentially pay less due to a specific college’s cost of attendance or the merit-based scholarships that a student receives. EFC is determined by completing a financial application during the fall semester of the student’s senior year.
Underclassmen (9th-11th) and parents of underclassmen are encouraged to complete the FAFSA4Caster to understand their approximate Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). Additionally, families should complete a Net Price Calculator for the colleges that their students are interested in attending. You can find many of them on College Board’s Financial Aid website or by searching online.
Seniors looking to receive financial aid should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application is used to determine federal need-based aid and is not available until October 1 of the student’s senior year.
In addition, around 400 colleges require an additional financial aid application called the CSS Profile. Typically used by schools that offer generous need-based aid, it includes more questions regarding family resources to help colleges more fully understand how to package financial-aid awards. It also becomes available in October of the student’s senior year and should be completed in the fall semester.
After seniors have received award letters in the spring semester, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau has created a helpful resource to compare each of them and understand what the debt burden will look like at graduation. Click here to compare financial aid offers.
Colleges give the most scholarship money each year, compared to any outside scholarship. As a result, it is recommended that students find colleges that will be able to offer the financial aid that they would need in order to attend.
For help with searching for colleges, we recommend using CollegeData in order to find colleges based upon the institution’s cost and financial friendliness.