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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Academic Common Market, Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) - “The Academic Common Market is a tuition-savings program for college students in 15 SREB states, who want to pursue degrees that are not offered by their in-state institutions. Students can enroll in out-of-state institutions that offer their degree programs and pay the institution’s in-state tuition rates. More than 1,900 undergraduate and graduate programs are available.”
- College Affordability Guide
- FAFSA4caster - Provides a free early estimate of eligibility for federal student aid
- Fastweb - Connect to scholarships, financial aid and more
- Federal Student Aid - An office of the U.S. Department of Education
- finaid - A comprehensive student guide to financial aid
- National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA)
- Net Price Calculators - You can use the College Board’s Net Price Calculator to estimate your net price at hundreds of colleges. Net price calculators are available on a college’s or university’s website.
- State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) - Financial aid application deadlines for Virginia colleges
- Student Loans - The Federal Student Aid site contains information on Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, Federal Parent PLUS Loans
- VA 529 Plans - College savings plan information
- Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG) - The Tuition Assistance Grant Program (VTAG) is designed to assist Virginia residents who attend accredited private, nonprofit colleges and universities in Virginia for other than religious training or theological education.
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:
- Private local or national scholarships - Awarded by private organizations, foundations, individuals, etc.
- 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 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.
- CareerOneStop Scholarship Search
- BigFuture - College Board’s College and Scholarship search
- DISCOVER Scholarships Directory
- Fastweb - Connect to scholarships, financial aid and more
- Hispanic Scholarship Fund
- Peterson's Scholarship Search Engine
- RaiseMe - Earn micro-scholarships from colleges for your achievement as early as 9th grade
- Scholarship America
- United Negro College Fund Scholarships
Articles and Podcasts About Financial Aid and Scholarships
- “11 Common FAFSA® Mistakes - ED.Gov Blog (via FSA).” ED.gov Blog, 18 Sept. 2018.
- Dickler, Jessica. “Student Aid Secret: Even High-Income Families Can Qualify.” CNBC, CNBC, 24 Feb. 2020.
- “Episode Eight: ‘How Families Can Talk About Paying for College.’” National Association for College Admission Counseling.
- “Episode 9: ‘Understanding Financial Aid Award Letters.’” National Association for College Admission Counseling.
- Erb, Kelly Phillips. “What You Need to Know About Taxes and Filling Out Your FAFSA.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 Oct. 2019.
- Eneriz, Ashley. “The Dangers of Taking Out a Direct PLUS Loan.” Investopedia, 13 March 2020.
- Federal Student Aid, “Find and apply for as many scholarships as you can—it’s free money for college or career school!”
- Mulhere, Kaitlin. “These 75 Colleges Promise to Meet 100% of Students' Financial Need.” Money, 12 Nov. 2019.
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.