Guides students through the process of locating and applying for financial aid. Prepared by the Congressional Research Service for Members of Congress, updated April 2015.
- The basics: getting started
- Student aid and where it comes from
- Targeted aid for specific groups
- Repaying your loans
The basics: getting started
Start gathering information early.
Free information is readily available from:
High school counselors
College and career school financial aid offices (where you plan to attend)
Local and college libraries
Federal Student Aid (U.S. Department of Education)
Other Internet sites (search terms student financial aid OR assistance)
Ask questions: counselors may know if you have exceptional circumstances that affect your eligibility.
Keep copies of all forms and correspondence: you must reapply for aid each year.
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.
- Stafford Loans (FFELs and Direct Loans) include:
- Perkins Loans [Download a free PDF reader] for the most needy undergraduates; through participating schools.
- Scholarships/grants are mostly need-based and require no repayment:
- "Congressional" scholarships:
- 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.
States offer residents a variety of scholarships, loans, and tuition exemptions.
- Check with your State Higher Education Agency and State Guarantee Agency.
- Consider prepaid tuition and college savings ("Section 529") plans: College Savings Plans Network.
- Search your Internet browser under terms such as student financial aid or assistance AND your state.
Colleges and universities provide some 20% of aid, most need-based. Check university Web sites and the institutions financial aid office when you apply for admission.
Targeted aid for special groups
- Grants for Minorities: Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, Native Americans, and Other Ethnic Groups
- African Americans: For Students: Scholarships
- Disabled students: Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities
- Foreign students: Financial Aid for International Students
- Hispanic Americans: Scholarships
- Law school students: Law school students
- Medical students: Association of American Medical Colleges
- Native Americans: American Indian College Fund
- Study abroad (for U.S. and non-U.S. citizens): International Financial Aid
- Veterans: Education Benefits
Interested in public service?
Federal assistance programs seek to encourage people to work in geographic areas or professions where theres 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.
- Army Tuition Assistance
Additional benefits for Army personnel.
- Indian Health Service
Scholarships for American Indian/Alaskan Native health profession students and loan repayment for persons working in IHS facilities.
- Military academies:
United States Air Force Academy
United States Coast Guard Academy
United States Merchant Marine Academy
United States Military Academy
United States Naval Academy
- National Health Service Corps
Scholarships and loan repayment for health profession students who agree to work in underserved areas.
- Nursing Scholarships
Offered in exchange for two years of service in areas with critical nursing shortages.
- Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC)
For students who want to be commissioned as officers after graduating from college.
United States Air Force ROTC
United States Army ROTC
United States Navy ROTC
- USA Jobs: Welcome Students and Recent Graduates
Scholarships, grants, fellowships, internships, and cooperative education with federal agencies.
Aid for private K-12 education: No direct federal assistance, check with schools themselves:
- Coverdell Education Savings Accounts: for elementary and secondary school expenses as well as higher education.
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 its 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.
- Sometimes loans may be canceled in exchange for public service.
Teachers: Cancellation/Deferment Options
Health professions: National Health Service Corps
Law school graduates: Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
Medical school graduates: Loan Repayment Program
Federal employees: Federal Student Loan Repayment Program
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Student Debt Repayment Assistant.
Department of Education
Applying for Federal Financial Aid for the 2017-2018 School Year
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) & Online applications must be submitted by midnight Central Time, June 30, 2017. The deadline for filing FAFSA on the Web applications was June 30, 2017. These applications are no longer available.
Any corrections or updates must be submitted by midnight Central Time, September 9, 2017.
The deadline for correcting FAFSA on the Web applications was September 9, 2017. Since the deadline has passed, corrections can no longer be made. Cal Grant: Application deadline March 2, 2017.
Who is eligible to apply?
You are eligible to file the FAFSA if you are a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident or other eligible noncitizen.
How to apply:
Submit online application here: https://fafsa.ed.gov/ and submit your GPA verification either through your school automatically or by submitting a GPA verification form. Access GPA verification form here: http://www.csac.ca.gov/doc.asp?id=1177..
California Dream Act: Application deadline March 2, 2017
Who is eligible to apply?
If you are a non-citizen holding a Social Security card issued through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or for some other work authorization, you should fill out the California Dream Act Application.
How to apply:
Submit online application at: www.caldreamact.org. Do NOT fill out a FAFSA.
Below are some useful links and information regarding frequently asked questions around student loans.
Can your office help me get my student loans forgiven or discharged?
While my office can make an inquiry on your behalf about the status of a pending case, or for clarification on the reasons for a denial, it would be inappropriate for me to compel any agency to decide an issue in your favor, or to overturn a decision that is final.
I’m having trouble repaying my student loans, what should I do?
There are several ways to keep your loans from accruing interest or going into default if you’re having trouble affording your payments:
- Consolidation: Combine multiple loans from different lenders into one single loan to allow you to stretch out the period of time you make payments and lower your payment.
- Income-driven repayment: Allows you to form payments based on your income.
- Reaffirmation: You've received a loan amount in excess of an annual or aggregate loan limit and need to repay the amount according to the terms of the promissory note.
- Repayment Plan Request: For Direct Loans only. Plans you request on this form allow you to stretch out the period of time you make payments, which can lower your payment. You will pay less per month, but you will probably increase the amount you pay over the life of the loan.
- Deferment or Forbearance: You won't have to make a payment, but you usually will not be making progress toward forgiveness or paying back your loan. If you have unsubsidized loans and don't pay interest during deferment, it may be capitalized (added to your principal balance), and the amount you pay in the future will be higher.
To apply to any of these options, contact your loan servicer first. To access forms, go to: https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/formLibrary.action
Do I qualify for student loan forgiveness?
You must repay your federal student loans unless you fall under certain circumstances that can lead to your loans being forgiven, cancelled, or discharged. For an overview of the provisions for discharge applications, visit: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/charts.
I think I qualify for loan forgiveness, how do I apply?
If you are ready to apply for loan forgiveness, contact your loan servicer. If you don’t know who your loan servicer is, visit: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/ . If you have a Federal Perkins Loan, contact the school where you received a Federal Perkins Loan.
Can I stop paying my student loans if I’m applying for discharge?
Until your student loan discharge is approved, you need to continue paying your student loans or you will start accruing additional interest or go into default.
I’m a Public Service Employee; do I qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)?
Full-time Employment (at least 30hrs/week) with the following types of organizations qualifies for PSLF:
- Government organizations (federal, state, local, tribal)
- Not-for-profit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
- AmeriCorps or Peace Corps (serving in a full-time position)
And, who have made 120 qualifying monthly. A qualifying monthly payment is a payment that you make:
- after October 1, 2007;
- under a qualifying repayment plan(income-drive repayment or 10-year standard repayment);
- for the full amount due as shown on your bill;
- no later than 15 days after your due date; and
- while you are employed full-time by a qualifying employer.