Financial Aid Process

What Is Financial Aid?

Financial aid is money available to assist students with costs of attending college. There are four forms of financial aid:

Grants are awarded based on financial need and do not require repayment.

Scholarships are awarded to students based on an applicant's academic achievement or other criteria; financial need is sometimes taken into account. Scholarships do not require repayment.

Loans may be offered to students and parents at low interest rates. Loans are considered a form of financial aid and must be repaid. In most cases, repayment of student loans does not begin until after graduation or the student leaves school.

Work Study employment may be offered to students. Work-study is awarded based on need and will provide the opportunity for employment during the academic year. This work is part-time, and often limited to a specific number of hours per week. Students who are not awarded work-study may seek other on-campus employment.

Where Does Financial Aid Come From?

The federal government is the largest source of financial aid. As a result, it is likely federal funds will be a part of a student's future in higher education. The United States Department of Education publishes the Guide to Federal Student Aid , which gives an overview of the various programs at the federal level.

There are a number of other resources for financial aid in the publication Student Aid, which lists programs from a variety of different sources that are not as familiar to most students.

The university or college a student plans to attend may also have institutional grants or scholarships. Students are encouraged to contact their financial aid office and inquire about opportunities that exist with their university or college.

There are various private sources of financial aid. Families are encouraged to pursue possible funding from local organizations, employers, foundations, and corporations.

How to Apply for Financial Aid

All students seeking financial aid (including loans) must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is usually available from high school guidance offices, libraries, and university financial aid offices in mid-December.

Some universities or colleges may require students and parents to complete an institutional financial aid application, a form separate from the FAFSA that collects additional information not found on the FAFSA. Once completed, this form is sent directly to the university or college to which the student is applying, unlike the FAFSA.

It is also important to find out the college's financial aid priority date. The priority date is interpreted differently by individual campuses. However, in most cases it means the date by which  your FAFSA should be filed or the date all materials must be at the Financial aid offices.  It is important for students and parents to know the filing date and what is expected by that date.

What Happens Next?

Beginning in the spring, students will receive an award letter from the financial aid office. The award letter provides details on a student's financial aid package. The financial aid package will be for one academic year and lists each source of aid and the amount. Remember, it is the student's responsibility to read and understand all of the information in the award letter. Students need to ask questions if the information is difficult to understand. The UW Financial Aid Offices are great sources.

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