Financial Aid and Student Loan Introduction

Free Financial Aid 101 eBook

Financial Aid 101

Learn the basics of financial aid, from 529 plans to student loans and everything in between.

Download Your Free PDF »

Finding financial aid information can seem overwhelming and intimidating at first, but it's easier to understand once the process is laid out. Here, we walk you through the basics of the financial aid process step by step.

Determine What's Affordable

A college degree is one of the biggest and best investments of your life. Calculate what you can afford to pay for college even before you begin the college search. Compare your personal budget to schools you want to attend, and see what's affordable.

Find Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships and grants are your first stop in the process of finding money for college. Scholarships and grants typically never need to be repaid, and as such are the preferred form of financial aid if you can get them.

File your FAFSA and Federal Financial Aid Paperwork

The FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the single-most important form you'll complete in the financial aid process. This application is required for a variety of grants and loans such as the Pell Grant, Stafford Loans, and PLUS Loans.

Receiving Financial Aid

Once you've filed your FAFSA and applied for scholarships and grants, wait for financial aid award letters to arrive from schools. When the letters arrive, you'll need to figure out what aid you will be receiving and when to expect your aid.

Federal Loans for Students

After completing the FAFSA, three federal student loans that students can qualify for are the Direct Federal Stafford Loan, the Perkins Loan, and the Graduate PLUS Loan. Depending on what program of higher education you're enrolling in, the loan limits and terms will vary.

Federal Student Loans for Parents

Parents who want to help undergraduate children pay for college are eligible to borrow federally guaranteed loans through PLUS loans (Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students).

Alternative Student Loans

When federal financial aid is insufficient, or education expenses exist outside of the coverage of federal student loans, alternative student loans can cover the remaining costs of education.

Repaying Your Student Loans

The process of repaying student loans is more important than the process of obtaining them. Prompt, on time payment builds a positive credit history and helps you obtain additional credit in the years after graduation. Missing payments or defaulting on loans can do the opposite. A number of different options can help you repay student loans, from payment plans to loan consolidation.