Understanding Financial Aid

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If you’ve been researching schools, you’ve surely discovered by now that the college price tag isn’t cheap. Fortunately, there are many different types of financial aid available to help pay for your education. Some types need to be paid back, some don’t, and some are even earned by you. 

Financial aid can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. With $3 billion in private scholarships available to prospective college students each year, finding the money to pay for your dream school is easier than ever — provided you know where to look. The more you know, the better off you’ll be.

Download our tips for Understanding Financial Aid here!

There are dozens of types of places that offer scholarships — whether need-based or merit-based — including government entities, colleges, local businesses, nonprofit organizations and more. Need-based aid is determined by examining your family’s income and assets. Eligibility is determined by a standardized formula, and the aid can also include loans and work-study.

Merit-based aid is awarded in recognition of your achievements or special attributes, including athletic, artistic, academic, or community engagement. Some schools don’t offer it, and a separate application or audition may be required.

Regardless of which type of aid you’re after, there are some simple ways to make your financial aid search easier.

  1. Get your Federal Student Aid ID now. To apply for aid, you and your parents will need to provide information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and sign it. Having an FAFSA ID allows you to electronically sign the form and make any corrections. You’ll use this to reapply for aid and access your federal loan information each year (if you are a borrower) so be sure to keep this information safe.
  2. Apply online and on time. Applying online makes the financial aid process much easier, as most forms have logic built in to ensure you don’t omit any responses or input incorrect responses. Online applications can be processed more quickly, allowing you to receive timely financial aid decisions. Be sure to meet deadlines as well. They can vary from school to school.
    • The CSS Profile is available on October 1 of each year for the following fall.
    • The FAFSA, for the 2024-25 application year is expected to be available sometime in December. Early Decision I applications will be reviewed without a FAFSA and tentative awards issued. FAFSAs will be collected once available. 
  3. Apply for private scholarships. Use a free search engine such as FastWeb or Big Future from the College Board. You can enter in your information and be matched to scholarships that are a good fit for you. Also be sure to check in with your school counselor for information on scholarships offered by your school and town. Organizations to which you belong may also offer scholarships, and ask your parents to check with their employers for scholarship opportunities. 
  4. Don’t fall for scams. The FAFSA is free to complete (either by paper or online), even though there are companies that will charge a fee to complete it for you.  The FAFSA is not difficult to complete — you can do it! And if you have to pay money for a scholarship, think twice. The Federal Trade Commission has information on avoiding being scammed during the college search process.
  5. Let the college know if something has changed. If there have been changes to your family’s financial circumstances, contact the college’s financial aid office so they can work with you to get the most up to date information.

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