Financial Aid 101

Most students receive some type of financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, loans, and/or work study to help pay for college. Some aid will need to be paid back or earned, but some aid, gift-aid, does not have to be paid back. You can more about these forms of aid under the Paying for College section of this website.

There are billions of dollars of aid available for students planning to attend college.  This aid comes mainly from the federal government, state governments, colleges and universities, and private organizations.

The U.S. Department of Education awards billions of dollars in federal student aid to help students pay for college. But in order to potentially receive some of this money, you have to apply for it. This section provides information on who is eligible for federal student aid and the application process.

Who can get federal student aid?

The most basic eligibility requirements are:

  • be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen,
  • have a valid Social Security number,
  • register (if you haven’t already) with Selective Service, if you’re a male between the ages of 18 and 25,
  • be working toward a degree or certificate,
  • maintain satisfactory academic progress once you’re in a postsecondary school, and
  • show you’re qualified to obtain a postsecondary education.

These are general requirements. To get more detailed information, see

How do I apply for federal student aid? 

Fill out an application! Apply for federal student aid, including a federal student loan, by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at In addition to federal student loans, the FAFSA also determines your eligibility for other federal student aid (grants and work-study). Many states and schools use your FAFSA information to determine your eligibility for state and institutional aid, including scholarships. You must submit the FAFSA to receive federal student aid.

When should I complete the FAFSA?

Complete and submit the FAFSA at on or after Jan. 1 of the year you expect to start college.

What information do I need to complete the FAFSA?

Completing the FAFSA is very straightforward, but you will need some documents to assist you in filling out the form, such as your or your parent’s most recent income tax return.

  • Your Social Security card and driver’s license, and/or alien registration card if you are not a US citizen.
  • Your income tax returns, W-2 forms and 1040 forms for the previous year. If you’re married, you’ll also need your spouse’s documents.
  • Your parents’ income tax returns, W-2 forms and 1040 forms for the previous year (if you are dependent).
  • Records and documentation of other untaxed income received such as welfare benefits, Social Security income, veteran’s benefits, AFDC, or military or clergy allowances.
  • Current bank statements, and records of stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other investments.
  • Current mortgage information.
  • Business or farm records (if applicable).
  • Records relating to any unusual family financial circumstances, such as unusually high child care costs, death, divorce and loss of unemployment. (These aren’t required, but they could influence the amount of aid received.)
  • Title IV Institution Codes for each school you are applying to. You can get this code from the school, or you can use FinAid’s Title IV School Code Database.

Once you’ve assembled all the necessary materials, filling out the FAFSA should be a fairly simple task. Remember to make copies of all documents and keep them with your copy of your completed FAFSA. You can find a complete list of documents you need when you complete the online application at


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