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Financial Aid: Funds Provided to Students and Families to Help Pay for College.

Honest communication between parents and students is essential for choosing a college that is feasible and reasonable as a financial obligation. The discussion about money, costs, and projected spending can be a difficult one, but it is best to begin this discussion early so that you, as a student and family, can make reasonable college choices.

  • Need-Based: based on family income.
  • Merit-Based: based on academic achievement, leadership, artistic/athletic ability, etc.



  • Money that does not have to be paid back.
  • Usually awarded to students with strong academic, athletic, and/or arts records.


  • Money that does not have to be paid back.
  • Usually awarded on basis of financial need.


  • Money students and/or parents borrow to help pay college expenses.
  • Available from federal programs (Stafford, Perkins) and commercial banks, often at a low interest rate.
  • Repayment from federal loans usually begins 6 months after students graduate from college.
  • Unsubsidized loans: Interest accrues while the student is in school (full-time).
  • Subsidized loans: Interest begins to accrue 6 months after you leave school.

Work Study

  • Student earns money while in school to help pay educational costs.
  • In form of a paycheck.


Federal Government 

  • Largest source of financial aid distributed via the college.
  • Aid awarded primarily on the basis of financial need – must apply every year using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • The FAFSA becomes available on October 1 – students and parents should complete the FAFSA at by January 1 of the year the student will be attending college. The FAFSA determines the family’s EFC (Expected Family Contribution) number based on the tax information from 2 years before the student starts college (2021 for the class of 2023). With that number, each college that the student has applied to will develop a Financial Aid package. You will receive a different Financial Aid package from each college.

State Government

  • Residency requirements.
  • Award aid on the basis of merit and need.
  • Most programs use information from the FAFSA.
  • Deadlines vary from state to state (MD’s deadline is March 1).
  • For more information:


Many private colleges offer institutional aid (money that belongs to the school, not the government). Most will require the College Scholarship Service (CSS) PROFILE form in addition to the FAFSA. You may register for the PROFILE online HERE. Consult this site to determine which private colleges require submission of the profile. Some schools require the PROFILE to be submitted by November 1 of senior year.

Private sources

  • Foundations, businesses, charitable organizations.
  • Deadlines and application procedures vary widely.
  • Begin researching private aid sources early.
  • Free Internet Scholarship Search Engines:

  • Research what is available in your community
  • What organizations and churches do you belong to?  Ask if they have scholarship   programs!
  • Application process usually begins in spring of senior year
  • Small scholarships add up!


  • Companies may have scholarships available to children of employees
  • Companies may have educational benefits for their employees


Visit schools’ Financial Aid websites to find out:

  • Scholarship requirements.
  • Need-based aid requirements.
  • Required forms (FAFSA, CSS profile, federal tax returns, etc.).
  • Financial Aid scholarships and deadlines (in addition to Application deadlines) that are specific to each school.

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the earliest deadline. The FAFSA is available every year on October 1st.


If you have any financial need, you must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is a form that collects demographic and financial information about the student and family. Even if you don’t think you would qualify for financial aid, you and your parents should complete the FAFSA since many schools require it for merit scholarships.

The FAFSA is filed electronically HERE.

Information from the FAFSA is used to calculate the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This is the amount of money a student and his or her family may reasonably be expected to contribute towards the cost of the student’s education for the following academic year. The EFC is almost always higher than you think it should be!

Most questions about the FAFSA can be answered HERE.

You may contact customer service at FAFSA at 1-800-433-3243.


1. Get free information and help from the financial aid office at the college you plan to attend, or the U.S. Department of Education HERE or 1-800-FED-AID. Free help is available any time during the application process. If an organization offers to help you through the process, and charges you a fee, it is a scam! YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE TO PAY FOR HELP with financial aid.

2. Get a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID, a personal identification number. An ID lets you apply, ‘sign’ your FAFSA, make corrections to your application information and more – so keep it safe. Go HERE to get your FSA ID. Both a parent and student need an FSA ID.

3. Collect the documents needed to apply. A full list of what you will need is at The list includes: Social Security number; alien registration number (if applicable); federal tax information or tax returns; records of untaxed income; cash, savings, and checking account balances; and investments other than the home in which you live.

If you don’t have all of this information yet, you can still start the FAFSA, save it and finish it later.

4. Most colleges require that you file the FAFSA by January 1-February 1 for Regular Decision applicants. Apply as soon as possible after October 1 to meet school and state aid deadlines. Apply online at FAFSA on the web (the fastest and easiest way) by going to If you don’t already have your ID, you can get it when you complete the online FAFSA.

  • The U.S. Department of Education will send you your Student Aid Report (SAR) – the result of your FAFSA.  Review your SAR and, if necessary, make changes or corrections and submit your SAR for reprocessing. Your complete, correct SAR will contain your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – the number used to determine your federal student aid eligibility. IMPORTANT: Do not assume that the EFC number is the amount you will have to pay for college. It is simply a guideline for schools to assess how much need you have.

  • The college that you plan to attend may request additional information from you. Be sure to respond to any deadlines, or you might not receive federal student aid.

  • The colleges will tell you how much aid you can get at a particular school. Contact the financial aid office if you have any questions about that aid being offered. Review award letters from schools to compare amounts and types of aid being offered. Decide which school to attend based on a combination of (a) how well the college suits your needs and (b) its affordability after all aid is taken into account.

  • Once you have decided on a school, you will need to formally accept the school’s aid offer.  If you are offered student loans, borrow only as much as you really need! If it is not clear, ask the financial aid office when and how your aid will be paid out, what it will cover, and how much money will come directly to you once tuition and fees are paid.


There are about 200 colleges that require an application called the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA. Those colleges use the CSS profile to assess the student’s eligibility for the college’s own institutional aid dollars. The CSS Profile is going to ask much more in depth questions about your finances. Unlike the FAFSA, it usually also requires input from both parents, even if divorced.

You may register for the CSS PROFILE online at Consult this site to determine which private colleges require submission of the profile.  Some schools require the CSS PROFILE to be submitted by November 1 of senior year.


Based on the EFC, each college to which the student has applied will develop a financial aid package.

Financial aid packages can vary widely and are usually a combination of scholarships, grants, loans, and work study.

HERE is a great article that will help you read your financial aid packages:


Start looking now!  Even small scholarships can make a difference!

Federal Student Aid:


Americorps Program:

MD Higher Ed Commission:

Central Scholarship:


Baltimore Comm Foundation:

College Board:

Fastweb: :



Broke Scholar:

Going Merry:

College Express:

The Scholarship Page:


Petersons Ed & Career:



College Scholarships:

Tuition Funding Sources:

Gates Foundation:

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation:

Horatio Alger Association:

Calvin Coolidge Pres Foundation:    

Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation:

Taco Bell Foundation:

American Indian College Fund:

Org of Chinese Americans:

Hispanic Scholarship Fund:

Hispanic Heritage Foundation:

Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund:

US Pan Asian Amer Chapter of Commerce Ed FoundationL:

United Negro College Fund:

Thurgood Marshall:


Jackie Robinson Scholarship:

Ron Brown Scholar Program:

Tom Joyner Foundation:

International Education Fin Aid:

International Scholarships:

Study Abroad Scholarships:

This is just a sampling of websites/resources. Google, google, google! Check with local employers, churches, and community organizations.

Want an early glimpse at how much money you may receive for college?  

Use Net Price Calculators and the Federal Student Aid Estimator.

The Estimator will give you an early estimate of how much the federal government thinks you can afford for one year of school.

Every college is required to have a Net Price Calculator (NPC) on the college’s web site. The NPC provides a student (and his or her parents) with a personalized estimate of the one-year net price of the college for the student. Note that this is an ESTIMATE. Google any college and ‘Net Price Calculator’ or visit a school’s financial aid website.