Financial Aid - Grants, Scholarships, and Loans

Paying for college may seem daunting, and navigating the Financial Aid process can be overwhelming. There is not one clear-cut path to pay for college, but there are many options to consider. Here are some suggested resources to help you understand the different funding options:

Although Discover and Sallie Mae are companies offering loans, they both also provide a lot of helpful financial aid information and free resources on their websites.

This U.S. News And World Report toolkit provides tips, tools, and articles to keep you up-to-date on paying for college. You will find information about colleges with "cheap" out-of-state tuition, The most and least expensive private schools, how to access free college applications, 16 tuition-free colleges, and more.

Dave Ramsey believes that it is possible to pay for college without student loans. Read his article about How to Pay for College Without Students Loan or watch this video about How to Pay for College (The Right Way) to learn more.
Credible is a simple, free tool to help students and parents evaluate their private student loan options. Credible users complete a brief form to receive personalized offers from 6 different lenders. Once users are informed of the offers for which they qualify, they can choose a lender. Only then is information shared with that lender.


Generally, there are two types of aid:

Merit Aid - Aid based on grades, test scores, and co-curricular activity and provided by the college, community-based organizations, and websites.

Need Based Aid - Aid based on family income and provided by the college, and federal and state governments.

*Often time grants are used to refer to need based aid, and scholarships are used to refer to merit aid.



Grant=free money! Students can get grants from the federal government, the state and their post secondary institution. In order to be eligible to receive federal aid, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1st of their senior year and each year afterwards that they’ll be in college. Get the FAFSA Tip Sheet here.

Before you complete the FAFSA, you have to create an FSA ID.

FAFSA4CASTER provides tools to help families get an early estimate of their eligibility for federal student aid. Families can then transfer information that they enter directly to the FAFSA once they are ready to apply for aid

The FAFSA is used to calculate how much of the family’s financial resources should be available to pay for college. This amount is called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Some colleges will also ask for the CSS Profile which is another tool used to determine aid eligibility. Need based financial aid is based on the difference between the total cost of college and the EFC. 

Cost of Attendance - EFC = Eligibility for Aid

To figure out your EFC, visit the following:

Net Price Calculator - Every college is required to have a net price calculator on their website. To find this tool, go to the college website and type “net price calculator” in the search bar.

Collegeboard EFC calculator

Department of Education net price calculator

In addition to federal aid, there is state aid. To apply for PA State aid

PA State agency contacts:

The CSS PROFILE is a tool some colleges and universities use to gather more information to determine eligibility for institutional aid. List of colleges participating with  CSS Profile

Apply with CSS Profile



Scholarships refer to money awarded to students by individual institutions or private organizations to help pay for college. Scholarships are often based on special qualifications such as academic, athletic or artistic talent or specific criteria such as living in a certain area, affiliation with a particular organization, or applying for a specific college major. Scholarships generally require students to submit an application which often includes writing an essay. There are also private and institutional scholarships for students who demonstrate financial need. Although most significant scholarship awards are offered directly from the college (check the financial aid office or webpage of the college), there are many free scholarship databases available online. Click button below for links to some of them.


Loans refer to money that must be paid back over time with interest. Loans can be federal (subsidized or unsubsidized) or private. Subsidized loans are offered to students who demonstrate financial need and the interest is paid by the US Dept. of Ed. while the student is in school. Most undergraduate students are eligible for loans through the Direct Loan Program. For an overview of federal loans:

Students are encouraged to take advantage of all federal aid before considering private loans. However, many students will need to borrow more than federal loans allow. There are countless private banks offering private student loans to bridge the gap between what you are able to pay with savings, and other types of aid and the cost of tuition. Each family will need to consider the various factors (such as interest rate and repayment plan) to find the private loan option that works best for them. Often colleges will have a list of lenders on their websites. See links below for some websites that compare private lenders.



Work-Study is another program that provides students who demonstrate financial need with federally (and sometimes state-funded) part time jobs on campus where they can earn money to help pay for college. To qualify, students must fill out the FAFSA.

For in depth financial aid information, check out these two links from the US Department of Education:

Award Letters

Between November and April students will receive award letters from all the colleges to which they have been accepted. Award letters detail the financial aid available to the student including information on grants, scholarships, and federal loans. Compare award letters using this College Covered Tool.