Student Financial Aid
Guides students through the process of locating and applying for financial aid. Prepared by the Congressional Research Service for Members of Congress, updated January 2012.
- The basics: getting started
- Student aid and where it comes from
- Targeted aid for specific groups
- Repaying your loans
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
- Student Aid on the Web (U.S. Department of Education)
- Other Internet sites (search terms student financial aid OR assistance)
- 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.
- Parents of students: save money long before your child attends college.
- Good overviews:
- Beware of scholarship scams -- don’t pay for free information!
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:
- Perkins Loans [Download a free PDF reader] for the most needy undergraduates; through participating schools.
- Scholarships/grants are mostly need-based and require no repayment:
- "Congressional" scholarships:
- 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.
- Check with your State Higher Education Agency and State Guarantee Agency.
- Consider prepaid tuition and college savings ("Section 529") plans: College Savings Plans Network.
- Search your Internet browser under terms such as student financial aid or assistance AND your state.
Colleges and universities provide some 20% of aid, most need-based. Check university Web sites and the institution’s financial aid office when you apply for admission.
Private foundations, corporations, and organizations offer scholarships or grants:
Targeted aid for special groups
- Grants for Minorities: Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, Native Americans, and Other Ethnic Groups
- African Americans: For Students: Scholarships
- Disabled students: Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities
- Foreign students: Financial Aid for International Students
- Hispanic Americans: Scholarships
- Law school students: LSAC Resources: Grants
- Medical students: Financing Your Medical Education
- Native Americans: American Indian College Fund
- Study abroad (for U.S. and non-U.S. citizens): International Financial Aid
- Veterans: Education Benefits
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).
- AmeriCorps Education Award
Volunteers who complete one year of service receive an education award for current higher education expenses or to repay student loans.
- Army Tuition Assistance
Additional benefits for Army personnel.
- Bureau of Health Professions
Scholarships and loans to needy health profession students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
- Student Educational Employment
Employments, internships, cooperative education, scholarships, grants, and fellowships with federal agencies.
- Indian Health Service
Scholarships for American Indian/Alaskan Native health profession students and loan repayment for persons working in IHS facilities.
- Military academies:
- National Health Service Corps
Scholarships and loan repayment for health profession students who agree to work in underserved areas.
- Nursing Scholarships
Offered in exchange for two years of service in areas with critical nursing shortages.
- Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC)
For students who want to be commissioned as officers after graduating from college.
- Student Educational Employment
Scholarships, grants, fellowships, internships, and cooperative education with federal agencies.
Aid for private K-12 education: No direct federal assistance, check with schools themselves:
- Coverdell Education Savings Accounts: for elementary and secondary school expenses as well as higher education.
Repaying your loans
After college, the federal government has ways to help you repay your loans.
- Eligibility depends upon the type of loan, when it was made, and whether it’s in default. Check with your loan officer to find out if you qualify.
- Loan Consolidation: combine your federal loans into a single loan with one monthly payment.
- Sometimes loans may be canceled in exchange for public service.
Teachers: Cancellation/Deferment Options
Health professions: National Health Service Corps
Law school graduates: State Loan Repayment/Forgiveness Programs
Law school graduates: Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
Medical school graduates: Loan Repayment Program
Federal employees: Federal Student Loan Repayment Program
- If you are having problems with your loan and all other approaches fail, contact the Department of Education’s Office of the Ombudsman.