What Is Financial Aid?

Financial aid helps pay for college. It comes in the form of grants, scholarships, loans, or work study. It helps cover the cost of tuition and fees, room and board, textbooks and supplies, and transportation. Most students attending a four-year college receive some form of financial aid.

Let’s look more closely at the different kinds of financial aid. It’s possible that you’ll apply for one, some, or all of them to make your college education more affordable.


A grant is a monetary gift you don’t have to repay. Grants can come from the federal government, state governments, colleges and universities, or private organizations. Many grants are need-based, but some grants are based on merit or other criteria, such as field of study. To apply for a federal grant, you will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA). To apply for other grants, check with the financial aid office at the schools you’re considering.


Scholarships are another form of financial aid you don’t have to repay. They typically come from colleges and universities or private organizations. They can be based on financial need, academic or athletic performance, your personal background, or your intended field of study or future career. There are many scholarship opportunities out there. Your high school counselor or adviser can help get you started on your scholarship search. Also be sure to contact the schools you’re considering to learn more about specific scholarships they offer.


A loan is money you borrow that needs to be repaid with an extra charge called interest. Loans for college come from either the federal government or private institutions, like banks, credit unions, or other lenders. Federal loans usually have lower interest rates as well as repayment plans based on your income, so they’re a good place to start if you decide to pursue a loan. You can apply for a federal loan by filling out the FAFSA.

Work Study

The Federal Work Study Program offers part-time employment for students with financial need, usually on their college campus, sometimes at a governmental or other institution. Funds you earn through work study help pay for your college education or other expenses. You can apply for federal work study by, you guessed it, filling out the FAFSA. Some schools have their own work study programs to allow students to make money and gain work experience.

Take the First Steps

If you’re hoping to score some financial aid for college, filling out the FAFSA is one of the first steps you should take. Also talk to a high school guidance counselor or adviser about other forms of financial aid, like scholarships. And don’t be afraid to contact the financial aid office at the schools you’re considering, staff there will be happy to tell you about the types of financial aid they offer.

And remember: the sticker price of a college education is rarely what you’ll pay. There are lots of resources available to help you afford a college degree.