$100 bills to illustrate college financial aid information
Dormify Team

What to Know About Financial Aid for College

If you're like most students, you'll need a little help on the financial front in order to pay for college. The good news is that there are a variety of options available to help you cover the cost of tuition, room and board, books, and other expenses. Keep reading to learn all about the types of financial aid available, plus some helpful advice and financial aid information for college.

What are the four types of financial aid?

There are four main types of financial aid: grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study. Grants and scholarships are usually awarded based on financial need or academic merit, while loans must be repaid with interest. (So, if you were wondering "Is financial aid a loan?" the answer is: It can be!) Work-study, on the other hand, is a program that allows students to earn money to help pay for college expenses by working on campus or at an approved off-campus job.

What's the difference between federal and private loans?

Federal student loans are provided by the government and have fixed interest rates. Private student loans are offered by banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions and typically have variable interest rates. Federal student loans usually offer more favorable terms and conditions than private loans.

What is the FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form that you'll need to fill out in order to apply for federal aid, like grants and loans. You can fill out the FAFSA online at fafsa.ed.gov.

To get the most federal aid, plan to submit your FAFSA application as soon as possible—as early as October 1 of the year before you will be attending college. Why the early bird move? Because colleges typically award certain types of aid on a first-come, first-served basis; they can see when you submitted your FAFSA and will allocate financial aid accordingly. 

How do I apply for financial aid?

In order to apply for financial aid, you'll need to fill out the FAFSA. You can find the FAFSA online.

What are the deadlines for applying for financial aid?

Generally speaking, you can start applying for financial aid in October. The deadlines for applying for financial aid vary from school to school, so the best bet is to check with your college or university.

What if I have more questions or need more financial aid information?

If you have more questions about financial aid grants, you can contact your college or university's financial aid office. They'll be able to help you with any specific questions you may have.

What types of scholarships are available for high school students?

There are lots of different scholarships available for high school students. Some scholarships are based on financial need, while others are awarded for academic achievement. There are also a number of private scholarships that you can apply for. Bonus: You don't have to have perfect grades or amazing test scores to qualify for a scholarship! There are tons of options that provide financial support based on a variety of criteria—the more you research, the more you'll find.

How do I find scholarships?

There are a number of ways to find scholarships, but the easiest place to start is with some online research. The U.S. Department of Labor offers a free scholarship search tool, and there are scholarships available through various federal agencies and your state grant agency. You can also check with your high school guidance counselor or college's financial aid office.

OK, I found a few good options. How do I apply for scholarships?

The process for applying for scholarships varies depending on the type of scholarship you're interested in. Some scholarships require you to fill out an application, while others may require you to submit an essay or other supporting materials. Pro tip: Give yourself plenty of time to apply for scholarships and make sure you're making the best case for yourself. Putting this part of the process off until the last minute means you'll be stressed, and you don't want any extra pressure while you're writing essays and filling out application forms.

How much financial aid money will I get?

The amount of financial aid money you get for college depends on your unique financial situation, as well as some other factors, such as any scholarships you might be eligible for. Filling out the FAFSA as early as possible will help you determine how much federal student aid you can get, so you have a good idea of how much you'll need to get from scholarships, loans, and other sources of financial aid.

What are the deadlines for applying for scholarships?

The deadlines for applying for scholarships vary from scholarship to scholarship. Some scholarships have deadlines that are as early as the beginning of the school year, while others may have deadlines that are later in the year.

Let's recap all this financial aid information in one place ...

  1. The FAFSA is your best bet for getting the most financial aid.
  2. There are a variety of scholarships available, so do your research.
  3. You don't need to have perfect grades or test scores to get financial aid.
  4. Colleges want students who will be successful, not just those who can pay the tuition bill.
  5. Don't wait until the last minute to apply for financial aid—start early!