Guides students through the process of locating and applying for financial aid. Prepared by the Congressional Research Service for the U.S. Senate, updated August 2018.
- 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
- Federal Student Aid (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.
- FinAid: for Parents
- College Savings Plan Network (state “Section 529” plans)
- Tax incentives for higher education expenses
- 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 U.S. Department of Education:
- Loans are the most common federal aid and must be repaid when you graduate or leave college:
- Stafford Loans
- Federal PLUS Loans parental loans, not need-based.
- Perkins Loans for the most needy undergraduates; through participating schools.
- Scholarships/grants are mostly need-based and require no repayment:
- “Congressional” scholarships:
- Named for Member of Congress or other prominent individual (such as Byrd Honors Scholarships, Fulbright
- Merit-based and highly competitive.
- Members of Congress do not play a role in selecting recipients.
- Work study programs allow you to earn money while in school:
- Federal Work Study Program: college campus jobs
- USA Jobs: Welcome Students and Recent Graduates: jobs with the federal government
- 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 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 your university web site and the institution’s financial aid office when you apply for admission.
Private foundations, corporations, and organizations offer scholarships or grants:
Free Scholarship Search
Grants for Individuals
Targeted aid for special groups
- Grants for Minorities: Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, Native Americans, and Other Ethnic Groups
- African Americans: Scholarships
- Disabled students: Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities
- Foreign students: Financial Aid for International Students
- Hispanic Americans: Scholarships
- Financial Aid for Law School: Law School Admission Council
- Medical students: Association of American Medical Colleges
- Native Americans: American Indian College Fund
- Study abroad (for U.S. and non-U.S. citizens): International Financial Aid
- Veterans: Education Benefits
- 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.
- 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.
- USA Jobs: Welcome Students and Recent Graduates Employment, internships, cooperative education, scholarships, grants, and fellowships with federal agencies.
- 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: Student Loan Repayment and Forgiveness
- Federal employees: Federal Student Loan Repayment Program
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Student debt repayment assistant