College Financial Aid
Terms to Know
Cost of attendance is the total cost of attending a college (tuition, room, board, and expenses).
Net cost is the total cost of attending a college after all gift aid (scholarship and grant) is subtracted. This amount can be covered through a variety of sources, including savings, income, and/or loans.
Direct cost is the fixed cost of attending a college—typically the tuition and room-and-board (housing and food).
Indirect costs are the more variable costs of attending a college that may be different depending on each student. Colleges will estimate these costs in a student’s financial aid package, but they are less predictable than the direct costs. “Indirect costs” include the cost of travel between the college and the student’s home; the cost of materials/supplies needed for classes; and the amount necessary for personal living expenses (e.g. clothes, toiletries).
Need-blind colleges will make admission decisions without consideration of the applicant's ability to pay.
Need-aware or need-sensitive colleges will make admissions decisions with the applicant's ability to pay taken into account.
Merit-based aid(also known as merit scholarships) is any form of financial aid awarded on the basis of personal achievement or individual characteristics without reference to financial need. You may qualify for merit scholarships by meeting a certain academic requirement, such as grade point average, test scores, or career goal. Note that some merit scholarships are contingent upon a student maintaining a GPA or pursuing a certain major or minor.
Scholarships are a type of aid awarded to the student that does not need to be repaid. Scholarship awards may be based on merit or may be a combination of merit and financial need.
Grants are a type of aid awarded to the student that does not need to be repaid. Grants are typically based on a student’s financial need. Some colleges use “scholarship” and “grant” interchangeably; the most important detail is that neither a scholarship nor a grant needs to be repaid.
Types of Aid
Pell Grants: Given by the Federal Government, these grants are awarded to those students demonstrating exceptional financial need. Pell grants do not need to be paid back.
Perkins Loans: Awarded by the student's school, these low-interest loans are given to students (both undergraduate and graduate) that demonstrate exceptional financial need. Repayment of this loan begins nine months after the student graduates, leaves school or drops to less than half-time student status.
Federal Direct Subsidized Stafford Loan: A federal loan which is awarded to a student on the basis of need. If you qualify for a subsidized loan, the federal government pays interest on the loan ("subsidizes" the loan) until you graduate or leave school.
Federal Work Study Program: A federal, campus-based program that provides part-time employment opportunities to students who qualify with unmet demonstrated financial need. These jobs have a limit on the number of hours a student may work during the semester. Note: students who are offered Work Study as part of their financial aid package must find their own Work Study job once they are on campus; they are not guaranteed a position.
Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loan: A non-need-based federal loan; borrowers are responsible for interest on all unsubsidized loans from the date the loan is disbursed until it is paid in full.
PLUS Loans (Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students): This is a federal loan for parents or legal guardians of dependent undergraduate students. This loan allows parents to borrow all or some of the difference between financial aid received and the cost of attending the school, including room, board, and other charges. A PLUS loan is not based on need, so the FAFSA is not required. PLUS loans allow parents with acceptable credit histories to borrow educational funds on behalf of their children (their children must be enrolled at least half-time). PLUS loans are available both through the U.S. government and through private lenders, and the eligibility requirements and loan limits are about the same. To be eligible, parents must be U.S citizens, pass a credit check (although one that is generally much less stringent than required for a home mortgage), and not currently be in default on any of their existing loans. PLUS loan payments are sent directly to the student’s college. Parents and/or legal guardians must begin paying both the interest and the principal amount of the loan while the student is still in school.
Important Forms & Links
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a financial aid form that must be completed by all domestic students who wish to be considered for need-based financial aid and/or federal Stafford Loans (“domestic” students are those who are citizens or permanent residents of the United States). The FAFSA is the first step in the financial aid process for most colleges; some colleges also require the submission of the FAFSA in order to be considered for merit scholarships. Please note that the FAFSA is updated each year; if your student is applying to college this fall, your FAFSA form will become available in early October. Students and parents should wait until its newest version is available before beginning to complete the form.
The CSS Profile is a financial aid form (administered by the College Board) required by over 300 colleges—most, but not all, of these colleges are private institutions—to apply for financial aid. Please note that as with the FAFSA, the CSS Profile becomes available each year in early October. Students and parents should wait until its newest version is available before beginning to complete the form. International students applying for financial aid also often need to complete this form.
At many colleges, international students may be required to submit an International Student Certification of Finances form—such as this form, or one similar to it—whether or not they are applying for financial aid.
FinAid is a comprehensive website of college financial aid resources.
Fastweb is a comprehensive scholarship database.
MyinTuition Quick College Cost Estimator will allow you to calculate an estimated cost of attendance at 74 different colleges, both private and public. The estimations take approximately 10-12 minutes each, and while very general, can allow you to see what you might be expected to contribute.
The College Affordability & Transparency Center, hosted by the US Department of Education, offers a number of tools for comparing college costs.