The Basics of Financial Aid and What to Know

What is financial aid? Financial aid is defined as any type of assistance used to pay college costs. The first step in helping students and parents understand financial aid is learning what types are available and the differences between them.


Financial aid can be one of four things:


  1. Grants: These are essentially free money that students apply for and do not need to be repaid. They are available through federal and state governments, state agencies, and individual colleges.
  2. Scholarships: There are many different types, but most scholarships do not need to be paid back. They are awarded based on requirements of the scholarship.
  3. Student Loans: Varying from other types of loans, federal student loans are specifically designed to offer lower interest rates. Private lenders also offer student loans, but these often incur higher interest rates.
  4. Work Study: A federal program, work study offers students part-time employment to help students meet their financial needs while providing work experience on campus or in the community.

Learn more from about financial aid options, here.


The search for financial aid can be a little bit difficult, especially when students are not sure where to look. These are just a few tips to help students find the right financial aid:

  • Talk to the high school counselor or their ASPIRE mentor.
  • Contact colleges of interest and speak with someone in the financial aid office.
  • Use online resources such as those listed in ASPIRE’s Scholarship Database.

After learning and deciding which type of financial aid a student would like to use, the next step is to apply for it by using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form is used to apply for many of the need-based financial aid programs offered by federal and state governments. To fill out the FASFA, students can go online ( and follow the step-by-step instructions.
To learn more about financial aid and resources to prepare for college costs, visit the ASPIRE online search for financial aid.

For a quick reference, check out the Financial Aid A to Z Glossary.


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