Financial Aid Basics

Here’s a quick look at the usual options for paying for college—which you can use in combination: 

Grants and Scholarships

These two options provide money for your education that you don't have to pay back:

  • Grants are generally awarded by the federal government or a state government. They may be awarded based on financial need, academic performance, program or area of study, or a combination of these.
  • Scholarships come from federal, state, private, or corporate sources. They’re sometimes need-based. They can also be based on “merit” (achievements), specific characteristics, or in combination. Examples include:
    • Academic performance
    • Involvement in athletics, the arts, or other extracurricular activities
    • Previous military service (your own or that of a parent)
    • Career choice—nursing or teaching, for example
    • Willingness to serve in the military or a service organization such as AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps following graduation
    • Religious, cultural, geographic, or ethnic background
    • Other factors determined by the scholarship provider


With this option, you apply earnings from a job to help with college expenses. The Federal Work-Study Program is a need-based program of employment that provides jobs for undergraduate and graduate students both on and off campus, including paid research, teaching, and resident assistantships. Check with your school's financial aid office to find out if your school participates.


This borrowing option requires you to pay back the money you receive—usually beginning once you're no longer in school.

Different schools may offer different types of aid, so the best place to get help and information is your college's financial aid office.

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