Financial Aid for Students
Guides students through the process of locating and applying for financial aid. Prepared by the Congressional Research Service for Members of Congress, updated February 2014.
The basics: getting started
- 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 assistance)
College Affordability Guide
- 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.
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.
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 United States Department of Education:
- Loans are the most common federal aid and must be repaid when you graduate or leave college.
- Stafford Loans (FFELs and Direct Loans) include:
- Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) from private lenders, such as banks and credit unions, guaranteed by the federal government.
- Federal PLUS Loans parental loans, not need-based.
- "Congressional" scholarships:
- Named for Member of Congress or other prominent individual (such as Byrd Honors Scholarships, Fulbright fellowships)
- Merit-based and highly competitive
- Members of Congress do not play a role in selecting recipients
- Work study programs allow you to earn money while in school:
- For questions not covered by the Department of Education Web site, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243.
States offer residents a variety of scholarships, loans, and tuition exemptions.
Colleges and universities provide some 20% of aid, most need-based. Check the university's website and the institution’s financial aid office when you apply for admission.
Private foundations, corporations, and organizations offer scholarships or grants:
College Board Scholarship Search
Grants for Individuals
Targeted aid for special groups
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).
Aid for private K-12 education: No direct federal assistance, check with schools themselves:
Repaying your loans
After college, the federal government has ways to help you repay your loans.