What is Financial Aid? 
Financial aid is funding given to a student to help pay for educational expenses in college. Such expenses include tuition (the cost of classes), class fees, room and board (dorm and meal plans), books, supplies, and miscellaneous fees. Prospective students receive a “financial aid award package” from every college they are accepted to. This package includes debt resources, such as student loans. It also includes non-debt resources like scholarships, grants, and work study options.

What is a Scholarship? 
A scholarship is money granted to a student for higher education purposes. It does not have to be repaid on the stipulation that the student meets and maintains its requirements. The most common type of scholarship is a merit scholarship. This type rewards a student for his/her academics, athletic abilities, or extracurricular talents. Another type is a need-based scholarship, which is granted based upon the financial situation of the student’s family. At the graduate level, scholarships are referred to as fellowships.

What other “free money” is available besides scholarships? 
  • Grants are provided by the government, nonprofit organizations, and community foundations. These funds are generally given to students for a more specified use than scholarships. This may include project research, study programs, or even starting one’s own business while in school. The most common of these is the Federal Pell Grant. Sponsored by the government, it provides need-based money to low-income undergraduate students and certain post-baccalaureate students. 
  • Work-study programs allow students to work part-time jobs on campus in return for financial assistance. The Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program is sponsored by the government and allows the Department of Education to provide funding for the program to over 3,400 participating colleges and universities.  At the graduate level, students can obtain a graduate assistantship, which is also used in a part-time capacity on campus or, more commonly, to perform major-related work such as serving as a teaching assistant or doing research for a thesis.

What is the FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) sponsored through the government. It is the form the U.S. Department of Education requires a student to fill out to determine how much financial aid he/she is eligible for. Primary factors on the FAFSA that determine one’s financial need include parents’ incomes, their assets, and the money they have saved (or the amount the student has saved) for college. By reviewing these and other factors, the government is able to determine the student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is a numerical figure that represents the family’s financial strength. It is used as the basis for how much financial aid both the government- at the federal and state level- and colleges will provide to the student. The EFC is actually seen on the Student Aid Report (SAR), which is produced upon submission of the FAFSA. With the necessary financial information on the student, colleges can then create a customized financial aid award package.

The earliest you can fill out and submit your FAFSA is January 1 of every year beginning your senior year of high school and extending throughout your college tenure. Because federal financial aid is limited, it is granted on a first-come, first-served basis. Therefore, submit your FAFSA as early as possible beginning January 1 in an effort to obtain maximum amounts of financial aid.

The Federal Student Aid ( and Student Financial Aid Services ( websites are great resources to help you understand the FAFSA process.

   Click on the links below for some of the top recommended resources for your scholarships search: 

  • For General scholarships, peruse these websites:  
                1) CollegeScholarships 
                2) Scholarships.Com
                3) Smart Scholar 

  • For African American scholarships, these are a few top resources: 
                1) The Sallie Mae Fund
                2) BlackStudents
                3) United Negro College Fund

  • For Hispanic-American scholarships, start with these resources:
                1) Adelante U.S. Education Leadership Fund
                2) Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities                    
                3) Hispanic Scholarship Fund

  •  For Native American/American Indian scholarships, check out the following:
                1) American Indian College Fund 
                2Association on American Indian Affairs 
  •  For Asian American/Pacific Islander scholarships, here are a few:
                1) U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation 
                2) Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund 
                3) OCA 
  • For Arab-American scholarships, check out the following:
                1) Arab American Institute
                2) American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee 

Read $100,000 and Counting for a listing of over 150 top scholarship resources and step-by-step actions to take to receive free money for college!