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Federal Student Financial Aid for College

Applying for federal student aid is free; that’s why the application you use is called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you need help completing the FAFSA, you can get that help for free too. You don’t have to pay anyone for assistance.

  • How much financial aid you receive depends on such factors as your financial need, the amount of other aid you’ll receive, and the availability of funds at your school. Unlike the Federal Pell Grant Program, which provides every eligible student with funds, each school participating in any of the campus-based programs receives a certain amount of funds each year from the federal government for each program. When that money is gone, no more awards can be made from that program for that year.
  • Each school sets its own deadlines for students to apply for campus-based funds. The deadlines will usually be earlier than the U.S. Department of Education’s deadline for filing a FAFSA (June 30th). Check with the financial aid administrator about the school’s deadlines. You might miss out on aid from these programs if you don’t apply early. Contact your financial aid office about the school’s deadlines.

What is Federal Student Aid?

Federal student aid is financial help available to students enrolled in an eligible program at a school participating in federal student aid programs. (By school, we mean a four-year or two-year public or private educational institution, a career school, or a trade school.) Aid covers school expenses, including tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation. Most federal aid is based on a student’s demonstrated financial need, rather than on grades. There are three categories of federal student aid:


Grants are financial aid that you don’t have to repay. Generally, you must be an undergraduate student, and the amount you receive depends on your need, cost of attendance, and enrollment status (full time or part time). The maximum amount a student can receive in Federal Pell Grant money for the 2012-2013 award year (July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014) is $5,635. Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOGs) range from $100 to $4,000.


Work-study offers you the opportunity to earn money while you’re enrolled in school to help pay your educational expenses. The Federal Work-Study Program encourages work in the local community and work related to your course of study, whenever possible. You can be an undergraduate or graduate student to qualify.


Loans, whether they are private or federal, are borrowed money you must repay with interest. You can be an undergraduate or graduate student. Parents may also borrow to pay for the educational expenses of their dependent undergraduate students. Maximum loan amounts depend on your grade level in school.

Federal Perkins Loans are offered by participating schools to students who demonstrate the greatest financial need. (Federal Pell Grant recipients get top priority.) You repay the loan to your school.

Stafford Loans are lent to undergraduate and graduate school students, and PLUS Loans are lent to graduate school students and parents of dependent undergraduate students through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program. Eligible students and parents borrow directly from the federal government at participating schools, and you repay these loans to the U.S. Department of Education.

Who gets Federal Student Aid?

The Department of Education stipulates that to be eligible, you must

  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen with a valid Social Security number. Demonstrate by one of the following means that you are qualified to obtain a postsecondary education:
  • Demonstrate by one of the following means that you are qualified to obtain a postsecondary education:
  • Enroll in an eligible program as a regular student seeking a degree or certificate.
  • Register (or have registered) with the Selective Service if you’re a male between 18 and 25.

How do you apply for Federal Student Aid? Follow these three steps:

1. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

You can apply beginning January 1st prior to the academic year for which you are applying, and you have until June 30 of the following year to submit your FAFSA. Be sure to check the FAFSA for the list of deadlines for state aid.

Schools and states often set deadlines early in the calendar year. These must be met to receive certain types of funds. Apply as early as you can. You don’t want to miss out on any source of aid!

2. Review your Student Aid Report (SAR)

Based on whether you have submitted a paper or an electronic FAFSA, the Department of Education will send you either a paper SAR or an electronic SAR via the Internet. The SAR confirms the information reported on your FAFSA and will contain your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is a measure of your family’s financial strength and is used to determine your eligibility for federal student aid. To receive your aid, you must have a complete and correct SAR.

3. Contact the school(s) you may attend

Speak with the financial aid office staff at the school(s) you’re interested in attending. Make sure they have all the information they need to determine your eligibility. The financial aid administrator will review your SAR, and if you’re eligible, will prepare a letter outlining the amount of aid (from all sources) the school will offer you

Federal Student Aid Summary

The following is a summary of Federal Student Aid programs that will help you pay for school. Check with your school to find out which programs your school participates in.

Federal Student Aid Program Type Of Aid Program Details Annual Maximum
Award Limits
Federal Pell Grant Grant: does not have to be repaid Available almost exclusively to undergraduates; all eligible students will receive the Federal Pell Grant amounts they qualify for $5,635 for 2013-2014; may change annually depending on funding
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) Grant: does not have to be repaid For undergraduates with exceptional financial need; priority is given to Federal Pell Grant recipients; funds depend on availability at school $4,000
Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant (TEACH) Grant: does not have to be repaid For undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, or graduate school students planning to teach an in-need subject—for at least four years—in a school that serves students from low-income families. $4,000
Academic Competitiveness Grant Grant: does not have to be repaid For first and second year undergraduates who are eligible for a Pell Grant and who have successfully completed a rigorous high school program. Up to $750 for the first academic year of study and up to $1,300 for the second academic year of study
The National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant (National SMART Grant) Grant: does not have to be repaid For third and fourth year undergraduates eligible for a Pell Grant and majoring in physical, life, or computer sciences, mathematics, technology, or engineering or in a foreign language critical to national security. $4,000
Federal Work-Study Money is earned while attending school; does not have to be repaid For undergraduate and graduate students; jobs can be on campus or off campus; students are paid at least minimum wage No annual maximum
Federal Perkins Loan Loan: must be repaid Five percent loans for both undergraduate and graduate students; payment is owed to the school that made the loan $5,500 for undergraduate students; $8,000 for graduate students
Subsidized FFEL or Direct Stafford Loan Loan: must be repaid Subsidized: U.S. Department of Education pays interest while borrower is in school and during grace and deferment periods $3,500 to $8,500, depending on grade level
Unsubsidized FFEL or Direct Stafford Loan Loan: must be repaid Unsubsidized: Borrower is responsible for interest during life of the loan $5,500 to $20,500, depending on grade level (includes any subsidized amounts received for the same period)
Federal PLUS Loan Loan: must be repaid Available to parents of dependent undergraduate students Cost of attendance minus any other financial aid the student receives

Frequently Requested Telephone Numbers

General information about the federal student aid programs, assistance in completing the FAFSA, and information about FAFSA on the Web are available through the Federal Student Aid Information Center 1-800-4-FED-AID
TTY users (for the hearing-impaired) can call 1-800-730-8913
Callers in locations without access to 800 numbers may call (this is not a toll-free number) 1-319-337-5665
To report fraud, waste, or abuse involving federal student aid funds 1-800-MIS-USED
Information on the Direct Consolidation Loan Program 1-800-557-7392
TTY number for Direct Consolidation Loan information 1-800-557-7395

Useful Web Sites

FAFSA on the Web (info & technical assistance)
Help in completing the FAFSA
Federal school codes (used to complete the FAFSA)
Federal government resources for education
College Opportunities Online (COOL database)
U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook

State Agency Telephone Numbers

These agencies provide information on state education programs, colleges and universities, student aid assistance programs, grants, scholarships, continuing education programs, career opportunities, and some guaranty agencies. You can search the U.S. Department of Education’s database at, for contact information and Web site addresses. At the site, click on "Funding," then click on "State aid." You can also contact the agency by calling the telephone number listed below:

Alabama 1-334-242-1998
Alaska 1-800-441-2962
Arizona 1-602-258-2435
Arkansas 1-800-547-8839
California 1-888-224-7268
Colorado 1-303-866-2723
Connecticut 1-860-947-1855
Delaware 1-800-292-7935
District of Columbia 1-202-727-6436
Florida 1-888-827-2004
Georgia 1-770-724-9030 (Hope Scholarship/Tuition Eq. Grant)
1-404-656-5969 (Robert C. Byrd Scholarship information)
Hawaii 1-808-956-8213
Idaho 1-208-334-2270
Illinois 1-800-899-4722
Indiana 1-317-232-2350
Iowa 1-800-383-4222
Kansas 1-785-296-3421
Kentucky 1-800-928-8926
Lousiana 1-800-259-5626
Maine 1-800-228-3734
Maryland 1-410-260-4565
Massachusetts 1-617-994-6950
Michigan 1-877-323-2287
Minnesota 1-800-657-3866
Mississippi 1-601-432-6997
Missouri 1-800-473-6757
Montana 1-800-537-7508
Nebraska 1-402-471-2847
Nevada 1-702-486-7330
New Hampshire 1-603-271-2555
New Jersey 1-800-792-8670
New Mexico 1-800-279-9777
New York 1-888-697-4372
North Carolina 1-919-549-8614
North Dakota 1-701-328-4114
Ohio 1-888-833-1133
Oklahoma 1-800-858-1840
Oregon 1-800-452-8807
Pennsylvania 1-800-692-7392 (loan information)
1-800-692-7435 (state grants)
Rhode Island 1-800-922-9855
South Carolina 1-803-737-2260
South Dakota 1-605-773-3455
Tennessee 1-800-342-1663
Texas 1-800-242-3062
Utah 1-800-418-8757
Vermont 1-800-642-3177
Virginia 1-804-225-2600
Washington 1-360-753-7800
West Virginia 1-888-825-5707
Wisconsin 1-608-267-2206
Wyoming 1-307-777-7763
American Samoa 1-684-699-1141
Guam 1-671-475-0457
Northern Mariana Islands 1-670-234-6128
Puerto Rico 1-787-724-7100
Virgin Islands 1-340-774-4546

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