This pages serves to guide students through the process of locating and applying for financial aid. Prepared by the Congressional Research Service for Members of Congress, updated February 2020.
The Basics: Getting Started
Student Aid and Where it Comes From
Basic Assistance Categories:
Remember that students and their parents are responsible for paying what they can -- financial aid is a supplement, not a substitute, for family resources.
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 United States Department of Education:
- Loans are the most common federal aid and must be repaid when you graduate or leave college.
- Scholarships/grants are mostly need-based and require no repayment:
- "Congressional" scholarships:
- Named for Member of Congress or other prominent individual (such as ByrdHonors Scholarships, Fulbright fellowships)
- 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:
- For questions not covered by the Department of Education Web site, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243.
- Some states offer residents a variety of scholarships, loans, and tuition exemptions:
- Search your Internet browser under terms such as student financial aid or assistance AND your state.
College and University Aid:
- Some 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.
Private Foundations, Corporations, and Organizations Aid:
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).
- AmeriCorps Education Award
Volunteers who complete one year of service receive an education award for current higher education expenses or to repay student loans.
- Indian Health Service
Scholarships for American Indian/Alaskan Native health profession students and loan repayment for persons working in IHS facilities.
- Nursing Scholarships
Offered in exchange for two years of service in areas with critical nursing shortages.
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.
- 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.