College Financial Aid Defined

Financial aid can be overwhelming enough when you do understand what all the specific terms mean. Just because the language is new, however, doesn’t mean that it’s difficult. Most college financial aid terms are pretty easy to remember once you know how they connect to your daily life at school.


FAFSA: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form is required for any student who wants to be considered for federal aid of any kind. Make sure you get your form in by the deadline!

Fees: fees can be charged for anything from seeing a doctor in the campus health center to returning your library books late. Additionally, you may see something listed as “student fees,” which cover some student services that the school provides and/or may be the basis for the student government budget.

Financial aid: anything related to the way you are paying for school. Loans, scholarships, grants, work awards, and any other resource you use are all considered part of your financial aid.


Grants: similar to scholarships in that you don’t need to pay them back. Some grants may be connected to your course of study or allow you to do research while still having your financial needs taken care of. (For example, you may earn a grant to cover your room and board while you do summer research with a professor.)


Loan: money your school (or a bank, or even a relative) is giving you but that you must pay back at some point. Some loans have no interest; some loans don’t collect interest until you graduate; some loans have terms that are connected to your plans after graduation (loans that are forgiven over time for teachers, for example).


Room and board: the cost of having a place to sleep (room) and food to eat (board) while at school. If you choose to live on-campus, this is usually a preset fee. If you choose to live off-campus, this may be an estimate. This may also change a bit, depending on which meal plan you select.


Scholarship: money being given to you for your studies. You usually do not need to pay scholarship monies back. Scholarships can come from your school, an organization, or a contest.


Tuition: the cost of your classes. Some schools charge tuition based on how many units you are taking, while others charge a base rate per semester as long as you stay within a certain range of units.


Work award: another name for work study.

Work study: this is basically a “job” that you will have as part of your financial aid package. (Note, however, that you still need to go out and find a job yourself; this just provides funding for it.) Most students work on campus but some work study jobs can be set up off-campus. You are usually not allowed to make more money in your work study job than has been allocated in your financial aid package.

As long as you manage your money well while in school, financial aid shouldn’t cause you too much stress. Remember, too, that the financial aid office is there to help if you ever find yourself needing more information or clarification.