Determining how to pay for college is a challenge for most families and often involves pulling from a variety of sources—from financial aid and loans to scholarships and savings. There are two common types of aid:

  1. Need-based aid - These awards depend on financial need and included grants, subsidized student loans, scholarships, and work-study. A student’s eligibility for need-based aid is based on the FAFSA. Some schools also require the CSS Profile.
  2. Merit-based aid - Merit awards, often termed merit scholarships, are awarded in recognition of student achievement (ie: academic, athletic, artistic, etc.). Merit-based aid does not consider the financial need of the student or family.

Financial Aid Forms

Schools have their own deadlines in place for the FAFSA and CSS Profile. You need to confirm the financial aid application timeline with each college or university.

  1. Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)FAFSA is used by colleges to determine the expected family contribution for college costs. Students and parents can apply as early as October 1.  Male students between the ages of 18-25 who have NOT registered for Selective Service may do so through FAFSA by checking the "Register me" box. Please read Selective Service Registration from Edvisors for more information.
  2. CSS Profile (College Scholarship Service Profile) - The CSS Profile is an online application to determine eligibility for non-federal financial aid, and it is administered by the College Board. In addition to completing the FAFSA, some schools may also require the CSS Profile. To determine eligibility for need-based financial aid, the CSS Profile goes into more detail than the FAFSA.

Financial Aid Resources


The more scholarship money you earn, the less you will have to pay out of pocket or borrow with student loans. There are two main sources for merit scholarships:

  1. Private local or national scholarships - Awarded by private organizations, foundations, individuals, etc.
  2. College-based scholarships - Awarded by colleges for use at that college only. For some scholarships, students are automatically considered by submitting a complete application for admission to the college or university. For other scholarships, students need to submit a separate merit scholarship application, different from the application for admission.

The Federal Student Aid website,  Finding and Applying for Scholarships provides an overview of scholarships.

Scholarship Resources

Scholarship opportunities are listed within Naviance (Naviance > Colleges > Scholarships and Money > List).

Scholarship search engines online are a useful tool in searching for scholarships. Please keep in mind that you should not have to pay for a scholarship search. Also, you may want to set up a secondary email address to use for scholarship engines because of ads and spam you may receive.

Articles and Podcasts About Financial Aid and Scholarships

This information is provided for your convenience. Postings do not indicate endorsement or sponsorship by George Mason High School, FCCPS, nor any administrator or employee of either George Mason High School or FCCPS.