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get the basics

financial aid 101

What It Costs: See the Big Picture

Many students worry that tuition and the other costs of continuing their education will be out of reach. But don't let the price tag stop you. It's only part of the picture. Keep in mind the major benefits of investing in your education.

Most students receive some kind of financial aid to help pay for the cost of their education. A few students even get a "free ride," where all their costs are paid for.

With your determination and assistance from financial aid, you can make the education you dream about a reality. Use this section of the site to learn how.

"Paying for college really is up to me. And a lot of times it can be a little stressful, actually knowing where that is coming from. But I do have a lot of aid from the federal government, a lot of grants and within the last couple of years, I have had to take out loans. But looking at college as an investment in my future, I feel like that's something that's necessary to do."
Kansas State University

Who Gives Aid: Find the Figures

The U.S. Department of Education should be your first source to access financial aid. They award about $150 billion a year in grants, work-study assistance and low-interest loans.

Aid also comes from scholarships from state governments, schools, employers, individuals, private companies, nonprofits, religious groups and professional organizations.

So, there's money out there. You can find it.

Applying for Federal Aid: Meet the FAFSA

At some point, you need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

To help you prepare, read more about the FAFSA.

You can also get information from your school counselor. Most colleges also have a financial aid office you can contact for info.

And for even more help, read the U.S. Department of Education's Steps to Federal Student Aid¯ fact sheet, or use Completing the FAFSA,¯ a detailed online tutorial. You can also call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243), or click the Live Help¯ link on the Contact Us page of the FAFSA Web site, then click the CUSTOMER SERVICE LIVE¯ button.

What You Pay: Understand the EFC

The aid you qualify for depends on your Expected Family Contribution, or EFC. The EFC is a number that schools use to determine how much federal aid you would receive if you attended that school.

When you apply for federal student aid, you will be asked to provide information about your or your family's finances, such as income, assets and family size. After you submit the application, you will receive an EFC based on this information.

Your contribution may come from a combination of savings, current income and loans.

What Aid Covers: Add It Up

There are five basic costs associated with going to college. Financial aid may be used for:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board
  • Books and supplies
  • Personal expenses
  • Travel

Financial Aid: True or False


If your parents earn above a certain amount, you are automatically disqualified for federal student aid.


The answer is false. There is no income cut-off to qualify for federal student aid. Everything from the size of your family to the age of your parents is taken into consideration.


Only students with good grades get financial aid.


The answer is false. Your high school grades are not taken into account when you apply for most federal student aid programs. However, once you begin receiving federal student aid, you will be expected to keep your college grades up to a minimum standard.


You do not have to be a certain ethnicity to get financial aid.


The answer is true. Funds from federal student aid programs are awarded based on financial need, not based on ethnicity.


The form you have to fill out is too hard.


The answer is false. Too hard? No way. It can seem complicated at times, but millions have done it and you can, too. The FAFSA site provides lots of help along the way. And you can call a toll-free number to get help over the phone.


It's easier to do the FAFSA online.


The answer is true. The FAFSA site walks you through step-by-step. It includes lots of tools and explanations to help you complete the form. And if you get stuck, you can chat one-on-one with a customer service representative.
(Note: If you don't have a computer to fill out the FAFSA, you can use the print version and submit it by mail.)



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