Guides students through the process of locating and applying for financial aid. Prepared by the Congressional Research Service for Members of Congress, updated April 2015.
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
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.
Student aid and where it comes from
Basic assistance categories:
Remember that students and their parents are responsible for paying what they can -- financial aid is a supplement, not a substitute, for family resources.
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.
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: Law school students
- 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
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.
- Indian Health Service
Scholarships for American Indian/Alaskan Native health profession students and loan repayment for persons working in IHS facilities.
- Military academies:
United States Air Force Academy
United States Coast Guard Academy
United States Merchant Marine Academy
United States Military Academy
United States Naval Academy
- 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.
United States Air Force ROTC
United States Army ROTC
United States Navy ROTC
- USA Jobs: Welcome Students and Recent Graduates
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: Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
Medical school graduates: Loan Repayment Program
Federal employees: Federal Student Loan Repayment Program
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Student Debt Repayment Assistant.