Financial Aid Basics

Financial aid can be a big help in paying for college. An application for financial aid must be filed each year. Apply even if you think you will not qualify. Make sure that you meet the application deadline and that you give complete and accurate information on your application. Financial aid funds are limited and errors or missed deadlines may limit the amount of aid you receive.

Types of Financial Aid

  • Grants and Scholarships: Gift aid that does not have to be repaid, and may include federal grants, state grants, institutional aid based on merit or financial need, and local scholarships.
  • Work-Study: Federal and institutional work-study programs allow students to work part-time on or near campus while in college. 
  • Parent and Student Loans: Loans are available for parents and students and may come from the federal government or private lenders.

The Aid Process

Different colleges and universities require different financial aid applications. All use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Additionally, some use the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® and the college’s own financial aid application. Check the website for the schools you like to determine which forms you need to file and when they are due. Give yourself the time needed to fill them out. Waiting until the last minute may result in errors or delayed filing.

The FAFSA is a federal form used to determine eligibility for federal and state aid. It gathers income and asset information on parents and the student. This information is then used to calculate the student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Each college determines eligibility for financial aid by subtracting EFC from the Cost of Attendance (COA). The Cost of Attendance varies at each college or university and includes that school’s tuition and fees, room and board, and estimates for books and supplies, travel and personal expenses. Therefore, while EFC stays the same, each college’s cost is different resulting in differing amounts of aid awarded. If an EFC is not sufficient to pay the full COA, the student is deemed to have financial need and the school will try to put together a financial aid package that includes state, federal and campus provided aid.

Applying for Aid

Determine what forms and deadlines are required at each of the schools you are considering.

File the FAFSA. This may be done each year beginning January 1. Before that date, get a jump on the process by completing the following preliminary steps:

If you are required to file the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®, it must be filed online. Apply for the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®.

Your Aid Package

Once you have been accepted for admission and have filed the necessary financial aid applications, you will get a financial aid award letter from the college. Review the award letters you receive and ask the campus financial aid office for clarification if you need it. Be sure to let the financial aid staff know if your family’s financial situation changes.

Check out the CHESLA Loan if you find that you need additional funding to pay your bill.