Financial Aid for Students

This Information Web page, prepared by the Congressional Research Service for Members of Congress, guides students through the process of locating and applying for financial aid. [Updated March 2006]


Aid for private K-12 education:

No direct federal assistance, check with schools themselves:


The basics: getting started

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
U.S. Department of Education Web page
Other Internet sites (search terms student financial aid OR assistance)

  • Ask questions: counselors may know if you have exceptional circumstances that affect your eligibility.
  • Be organized: use calendars to keep on track.
  • 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.

College Savings Plan Network (state “Section 529′ plans)
FinAid: for Parents
Tax incentives for higher education expenses

Good overviews:

Cash for College
FinAid: The Smart Student Guide to Financial Aid
Financial Aid: You Can Afford It
Looking for Student Aid
Mapping Your Future

Beware of scholarship scams — don’t pay for free information!

U.S. Department of Education
Federal Trade Commission


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.
  • Scholarships/grants are mostly need-based and require no repayment:
  • Other grants, scholarships, and fellowships, mostly graduate level: search the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) by Beneficiary, such as “Student or Trainee” or “Graduate Student”.
  • “Congressional” scholarships:
    • Named for Member of Congress or other prominent individual (such as Byrd Honors Scholarships, Fulbright fellowships)
    • Merit-based and highly competitive
    • Members of Congress do not play a role in selecting recipients
    • Search by Beneficiary in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance
  • Work study programs allow you to earn money while in school:
  • For questions not covered by the U.S. 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.

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:
Scholarship Search
FastWeb
Free Scholarship Search


Targeted aid for special groups

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).


Repaying your loans

After college, the federal government has ways to help you repay your loans.

States, schools, and some private employers provide help in repaying loans in exchange for public service.


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