Financial Aid Guide

The A, B, and C’s of understanding Financial Aid.

Nobody expects you to be an expert with finances while you’re still in high school. Understanding the financial aid packages is tricky at any age, so don’t be overwhelmed!

After you complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), they’ll send you a package with your eligibility for what financial aid you will receive for the upcoming school year. You will probably see a lot that you don’t understand, and that’s okay! We’re here to help.

What can I expect to find in my financial aid package?

While financial aid packages differ greatly from school to school, you can expect to find the following information in each package you receive:

  • Cost of attendance
  • The amount of grant assistance
  • Amount of loans offered

It essentially lists what aid you will receive, as well as the category and amount of the aid.

What type of financial aid am I eligible for?

There are four types of financial aid you may receive when trying to gain funding for college:


This type of financial aid is awarded if you’ve been selected after you apply for the scholarship. You can receive scholarships for tons of different things, such as GPA, volunteering, minority status, and more. Money can come from schools, independent groups, or the government. Luckily for you, they do not need to be paid back.


Like scholarships, grants do not need to be repaid. There are numerous reasons you could receive a grant, including legacy status, studying abroad, or significant financial need. They are different from scholarships in that you don’t apply for them, they are awarded to you. That is, grants are need-based or merit-based.

This is where filling out the FAFSA form is extremely important; it determines whether you have significant financial need. Be sure to read the fine print to confirm that the grant is “free” and does not need to be repaid.


This form of aid is money that is lent to you for a certain amount of time with the promise of being repaid at some point in the future. Loans can be subsidized or unsubsidized.

Subsidized loans have a lower interest rate you start paying after you graduate. Unsubsidized loans have a higher interest rate, and you don’t have to have a significant financial need to receive this type of loan.

Federal Work-Study

The Federal Work-Study (FWS) helps students pay tuition in return for working part-time. Pay varies from school to school, and in order to land a FWS position, simply contact your university and work with them directly. This is a great way to get in some work experience while you’re in school.

How do I use my financial aid?

You have the option to accept or decline any financial aid you’ve been awarded. Just because you receive a sum of money doesn’t mean you have to take it! Remember, not all aid is “free” and some grants and loans need to be repaid. It is important to consider all of your options before you decide to accept or decline.

Carefully weigh all of your options with the person helping you finance your education or contact the university’s financial services if you have questions or concerns.

Before you make a final decision on which university you will attend, make sure to run the numbers. Create a spreadsheet and calculate the financials for each school you want to attend. This may help when it comes time to make a decision! Don’t let finances deter you from your top picks, but it’s important to consider before you make a choice. Loans add up quickly, and you don’t want to be swamped with student loan payments after you graduate. Find the right balance for your needs!

How can I make a financial plan?

In order to officially accept your financial aid package, you are required to fill out a form online or submit a signed document to the university. From here, it will be extremely helpful to create a budget and set financial goals.

Follow these steps to ensure you’re on track for a great financial future:

  1. Start saving early: put aside money little by little to help pay for tuition and student loans post-graduation. You will never regret saving, but you will regret waiting until the last minute to try to pay off your loans.
  2. Always fill out a FAFSA. It doesn’t matter if your parents are helping to pay for college or not, you still may be eligible for aid. Filling out the form with their information does not mean they become responsible for paying your tuition. Remember, grants can be merit-based and you may qualify for a few!
  3. Maximize eligibility by paying off debt and contributing more to retirement funds; this will increase your family’s liquid assets. Additionally, don’t save funds under the student’s name.

Filling out your FAFSA is not the last step. Stay on top of the entire process to make sure you’re receiving as much financial aid as possible. College is expensive, but with the right tools and a proper budget, it doesn’t need to hold you back from your dream school!

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