Financial aid is any type of monetary assistance that helps a student pay for college expenses. To apply, simply find out the financial aid deadlines of each college and then fill out the financial aid applications required by each college. For a full overview on financial aid, watch our College Financing webinar in English or Spanish.
Types of Financial Aid
Each year, hundreds of billions of dollars in financial aid are awarded to undergraduate students in the form of grants and scholarships, work-study, and loans. Aid is provided by the federal government, the state government, and colleges and universities. Find out the details of the different types of financial aid available.
Applying for Financial Aid
At MEFA, we encourage you to apply for all types of financial aid, from all sources, so that you are considered for as much financial aid as possible. Visit our Financial Aid Applications page to learn about applying for aid.
How is Financial Aid Determined?
You must meet certain criteria to receive financial aid, so first learn about financial aid eligibility. Financial aid may be based on financial need or merit, or a combination of the two.
Most federal, state, and college aid is based on a student’s financial need. Recipients may receive aid to cover some or all of their college costs beyond what they can afford. In addition, need-based aid:
- Requires the student to file the FAFSA and possibly other financial aid applications
- Is determined by a standardized formula that colleges use to calculate how much each family can afford to contribute
- Requires the student to fill out an application each year
- May be awarded in the form of grants, work-study, and loans
Merit-based aid is generally awarded by a college in recognition of a student’s achievement — academic, athletic, artistic, or extracurricular — in the form of a scholarship. Not all colleges award merit-based aid, and those that do only select its most competitive applicants as recipient. When awarding merit-based aid, each college:
- Establishes its own qualifications, award amounts, and application process
- May stipulate that a merit scholarship is non-renewable
- Typically compares students’ scholarship applications to determine recipients
What will be my actual cost?
After financial aid is applied toward the school’s cost, you are responsible for the remaining balance (also called the “net price”). Because of varying financial aid policies, it can be difficult to predict which college will be the most affordable for your family. Therefore, we encourage you to use the Net Price Calculators found on college web sites, and consider applying to at least one college that is affordable regardless of financial aid.
What to ask the Financial Aid Office
Financial aid programs vary from college to college. To help identify a college that your family can afford, it’s important that you learn how each school on your list makes its decisions when awarding aid to students. These questions can help guide your research.
- What is the total cost of attendance?
- What financial aid applications are required and when are they due?
- What is the college’s policy on need-based aid?
- Does the college offer merit-based scholarships? How do students apply?
- Assuming that cost and family responsibility remain constant, how will grant and loan amounts change from year to year? What if the family’s situation changes?
- Are scholarships/grants renewable each year? If so, are there conditions such as grade point average, enrollment status, or major?
- Are students required to apply for financial aid even if they receive a scholarship?
- How do outside scholarships affect the financial aid package the school offers?
- What are the college’s application requirements for divorced or separated parents?
- What does the college estimate the average total student debt to be upon graduation?