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Financial aid is money that the government and other organizations give you or lend you so you can pay for college. Financial aid starts with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The FAFSA Application is available starting in October. Many colleges use the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA. Check with colleges if this form needs to be completed. Watch for financial aid information nights available at your colleges and provided by ACCHS.


Step 1: Look for "free" money first

Try to get "free" financial aid first. Free financial aid is the type of aid that you do not need to repay. Free aid includes scholarships and grants.

Step 2: Know your specific deadlines

Financial aid deadlines are specific to your situation - your school, where you live, what you study.

  • October 1 - the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) deadline - is the most important deadline you should know. Submit your FAFSA as soon as you can after October 1.

  • Deadlines for aid from your state, school, and private sources lend to be earlier than those for federal aid.

Step 3: Fill out the FAFSA

You must complete the FAFSA to qualify for:

  • Federal and most state grants, scholarships, low-cost student loans, and work-study programs.

  • The Pennsylvania  State Grant Program and other state programs.

  • Many school-based financial aid programs.

Step 4: Compare schools' financial aid offers carefully.

You receive the financial aid offer in a package, often referred to as an award letter. Understand what you have received. Your financial aid offers will differ from school to school based on differences in the cost of attendance, available aid, and school-specific criteria for awarding certain types of aid.

Step 5: Be sure you have the money you need.

Once you have received your financial aid award, you need to make sure you have enough money to cover all of your education costs.

Know you education costs:

  • Direct costs - costs associated with attending school that are included in your award letter.

  • Indirect costs - additional costs that may require money beyond what is allotted in your award letter.

  • For more detailed information go to


Award Letter: The document you receive from a college that explains the terms of the financial aid that the college is offering you. The information includes the types and amounts of financial aid offered, what you're expected to do to keep the award and a deadline for accepting the award.

The Cost of Attendance: The total amount of college expenses before financial aid. Cost of attendance includes money spent on tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and living expenses.

CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®: A financial aid application used by more than 300 colleges, universities and private scholarship programs to award their financial aid funds.

Demonstrated Need: The difference between your expected family contribution (EFC) and the total cos of attendance for a particular college.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): A measure of your family's financial strength. States and colleges use this numbers to help your financial aid award.

FSA ID: An FSA ID gives you access to Federal Student Aid's online systems and can serve as your legal signature. 

Grant: A kind of "gift aid" - financial aid that doesn't have to be paid back. Grants are usually awarded based on need.

Load: Money you borrow from the government, a bank or another source. Loans need to be paid back, usually over an agreed period of time. You will most likely also have to pay interest on a loan - a fee for borrowing the money.

Need-Based Loans:

Federal Perkins Loans may be awarded by colleges to students with the highest need.

Federal Direct Subsidized Loans are interest-free while you're in college.

Non-Need Based Loans:

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans charge interest, but allow you to add the interest fees to the amount you borrow until after graduation.

Federal Direct PLUS Loans allow parents (or graduate students) to borrow the total cost of college, minus any financial aid received.

Scholarship: A kind of "gift aid" - financial aid that doesn't have to be paid back. Scholarships may be awarded based on merit or partially on merit. That means they're given to students with certain qualities, such as proven academic or athletic ability.


Student Aid Report (SAR): The report sent to your family after you submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that tells you what your expected family contribution (EFC) is.


Work-Study: A program that allows students to take a part-time campus job as part of their financial aid package. To qualify for the Federal Work-Study Program, which is funded by the government, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some colleges have their own work-study programs.


See the Counseling Resources page.

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