This Information Web page, prepared by the Congressional Research Service for Members of Congress, guides students through the process of locating and applying for financial aid. [Updated March 2006]
- The basics: getting started
- Student aid and where it comes from
- Targeted aid for specific groups
- Repaying your loans
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
U.S. Department of Education Web page
Other Internet sites (search terms student financial aid OR assistance)
Ask questions: counselors may know if you have exceptional circumstances that affect your eligibility.
Be organized: use calendars to keep on track.
Keep copies of all forms and correspondence: you must reapply for aid each year.
Student aid and where it comes from
Basic assistance categories:
- Financial need-based
Remember that students and their parents are responsible for paying what they can– financial aid is a supplement, not a substitute, for family resources.
- Non need-based
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 theUnited States Department of Education:
- Loans are the most common federal aid and must be repaid when you graduate or leave college.
- Stafford Loans include:
- Perkins Loans for the most needy undergraduates; through participating schools.
- Scholarships/grants are mostly need-based and require no repayment:
- Other grants, scholarships, and fellowships, mostly graduate level: search the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) by Beneficiary, such as "Student or Trainee" or "Graduate Student".
- "Congressional" scholarships:
- Named for Member of Congress or other prominent individual (such as Byrd Honors Scholarships, Fulbright fellowships)
- Merit-based and highly competitive
- Members of Congress do not play a role in selecting recipients
- Search by Beneficiary in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance
- 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.
- 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
- African Americans: Scholarships (UNCF)
- Disabled students: HEATH Resource Center [Download a free PDF reader]
- Financial Aid for Law School: Law School Admission Council
- Foreign students: Financial Aid for International Students
- Grants for Minorities: Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, Native Americans, and Other Ethnic Groups
- Hispanic Americans: Scholarships (HSF)
- Medical students: Association of American Medical Colleges
- Native Americans: American Indian College Fund
- Study abroad (for U.S. and non-U.S. citizens): International Education 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).
Volunteers who complete one year of service receive an education award for current higher education expenses or to repay student loans.
- Army Continuing Education System
Additional benefits for Army personnel.
- Bureau of Health Professions
Scholarships and loans to needy health profession students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Scholarships, grants, fellowships, internships, and cooperative education with federal agencies.
- 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
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.
- Children’s Scholarship Fund: partial tuition assistance to low-income students.
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
Federal employees: Federal Student Loan Repayment Program
- If you are having problems with your loan and all other approaches fail, contact the Department of Education’s Office of the Ombudsman.
States, schools, and some private employers provide help in repaying loans in exchange for public service.