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Everything You Need to Know About Institutional Aid

More than half the people looking to go to college don’t consider the school because of the price tag. They don’t know or don’t want to explore any scholarships and aid programs that the school can offer to students looking for admission. This is basically free money you are just leaving on the table.


The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It takes into account a student’s families earnings, savings and many other factors when determining if and how much a student is to receive in federal aid. 

Fill out the FAFSA. It doesn’t matter how much money your parents have – don’t leave any free money available to you on the table. 

The need-based aid from FAFSA and even just the institution itself is defined differently at every school.

Need-Based Aid

Need-based aid is relative – it depends on not only how much money you and you parents have but also the cost of the institution. For need-based aid, you need to always fill out the FAFSA. The FAFSA determines your EFC (estimated family contribution), and EFC is used to determine how much aid you need to cover the rest of the cost of going to college. 

The EFC number sometimes shocks people who have saved for college, making them feel “punished” for saving. However, these people will come out on top in the end because a family with the same income and the same number of family members will end up with the same EFC. You won’t have to take out a loan if you have the money saved. You save more money in the long run. Plan ahead. The EFC is what colleges will use to figure out how much need-based aid to offer you.

Merit-Based Aid

Merit-based aid is a very relative form of scholarship. There are some strings attached to this type of aid, usually you have to maintain some sort of GPA standard. After all, that’s the “merit” they measure in a school right? When applying for a Merit-based scholarship you know exactly what you are getting into. You know who you are competing against (tends to just be everyone else in your school). You have to understand, with merit-based scholarships, someone with a better record can beat you out and get more money for their scholarship award. 

The college itself decides where the requirements are, in terms of GPAs and test scores and the associated dollar amounts. Some institutions may also offer a legacy grant (i.e. military members) or grants to members of a particular religious group.

Talent-Based Aid

Talent-based aid is something you have to go out looking for. The most popular form of talent-based aid are athletic scholarships. They do differ from college to college. Some of these scholarships may substitute full coverage of tuition for food and housing (not to mention gear as well).  There are several different organizations that give scholarships based on people’s talents. You will have to research what you do and find organizations in that field that will offer you money to go to school.

If you are in some sort of club sponsored by an outside organization in high school, research if that organization offers you scholarships based on your work, they do tend to have ties with universities as well. You will have to keep performing your talent at a collegiate level to attain this form of scholarship.

As I mentioned above, scholarships and grants may have strings attached to them: you’ll have to maintain a minimum GPA, the scholarship can be for just the first year, you’ll need to meet some sort of reserve, etc. Some sort of “payback” is often required to keep the scholarship. 

The most important thing when looking at the scholarship? Don’t get too excited when seeing the dollar amount. Consider how this will affect the total cost to attend a college.

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