Financial Aid

A college education is expensive, but financial aid can make it cheaper. Learn everything you need to know about college financial aid, including how to apply, who is eligible for it, and how to maintain it while in school.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is financial aid?

    Financial aid is funds that help you pay for college or career school. There are many types of financial aid available, including grants, work-study, private and public loans, and scholarships. Each type of financial aid will help to lower the cost of higher education. Financial aid can come from a variety of sources, including the federal government, state agencies, community organizations, corporations, foundations, high schools, and more. 

  • Do you have to pay back financial aid?

    Whether or not you have to pay back financial aid depends on the type of aid you receive. When the financial aid office at your chosen school sends you an aid offer, you must indicate which type of financial aid you want. The U.S. Office of Federal Student Aid recommends you accept aid in this order: programs you do not have to pay back (scholarships and grants), earned money (available from a work-study), and borrowed money (available from federal and private student loans). 

  • How do you apply for financial aid?

    To receive financial aid, you must fill out the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The results of the FAFSA form will be sent to your college or career school, and they will decide whether you qualify for financial aid, and how much of a loan you may receive. 

  • How much financial aid can I get?

    How much financial aid you get, if any, depends on your expected family contribution (EFC), what year of college you are in, your enrollment status, and the cost of attendance at your school of choice. The financial aid office at your college or career school determines how much financial aid you are eligible to receive by subtracting your EFC from the cost of attendance to find your need.

  • What is need-based financial aid?

    Need-based financial aid is a designation that is based on a student and their family’s financial need. To calculate a family’s need, the U.S. Federal Aid Office created a formula that colleges and universities have to follow: They subtract your expected family contribution from the cost of attendance to find your need. You can’t receive more need-based aid than the amount of your financial need. If a family is considered low income, for example, the student may receive a need-based grant like the federal Pell Grant.

  • How do you write a financial aid appeal letter?

    If you do not receive the amount of financial aid that you were hoping for after filling out the FAFSA, you may be eligible to file a financial aid appeal letter. Before sending a financial aid appeal letter, you need to make sure your reason for appeal is valid. Call or email your school’s financial aid office for specifics. Some circumstances that warrant an appeal include an error on your FAFSA, changes to your family’s financial situation, or significant mental or physical health challenges. A financial aid appeal letter should be addressed to a specific person and include the following: a clear ask of why you did not receive the specified amount of financial aid requested; details of the circumstances that have changed; supporting documentation; and polite and thorough language.

Key Terms

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Page Sources

  1. College Board. "2022-23 Participating Institutions and Programs."

  2. U.S. Department of Education. "Federal Student Aid Annual Report FY 2019," Page 14.

  3. U.S. Department of Education. "Fiscal Year 2020 Annual Report: Federal Student Aid," Page 19.

  4. Federal Student Aid. "3 FAFSA Deadlines You Need to Know Now."