Guides students through the process of locating and applying for financial aid.  Prepared by the Congressional Research Service for the U.S. Senate, updated August 2018.
  • Getting started
  • Student aid and where it comes from
  • Targeted aid for specific groups
  • Repaying your loans

Getting started

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 the U.S. Department of Education:
  • Student Aid on the Web
  • Financial Aid Resource Publications
  • Loans are the most common federal aid and must be repaid when you graduate or leave college:
  • Stafford Loans
  • Federal PLUS Loans parental loans, not need-based.
  • Perkins Loans for the most needy undergraduates; through participating schools.
  • Scholarships/grants are mostly need-based and require no repayment:
  • Pell Grants
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)
  • "Congressional" scholarships:
  • Named for Member of Congress or other prominent individual (such as Byrd Honors ScholarshipsFulbright
  • Merit-based and highly competitive.
  • Members of Congress do not play a role in selecting recipients.
  • Work study programs allow you to earn money while in school:
  • Federal Work Study Program: college campus jobs
  • USA Jobs: Welcome Students and Recent Graduates: jobs with the federal government
  • 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 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 your university web site and the institution's financial aid office when you apply for admission.

    Private foundations, corporations, and organizations offer scholarships or grants:
    Free Scholarship Search
    Grants for Individuals

Targeted aid for special groups

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).

Aid for private K-12 education: No direct federal assistance, check with schools themselves:

Repaying Your Loans

After college, the federal government has ways to help you repay your loans.