Basic Guide to Financial Aid

5 min read


Paying for college is a real challenge that our age group faces and we hear a lot about financial aid when applying for college.

What actually is financial aid? Can it actually help you pay for college?

Yes! I paid for my entire college degree with financial aid! I used only scholarships and grants, and it didn’t just pay for tuition. This covered my room and meal plan too!

So many colleges say they offer student aid, but what do you have to do to actually receive financial aid?

I hope this post clears up some confusion around financial aid so that you know exactly what you’re getting into when applying.

As always this blog is for general information and entertainment only. It is based on my own experiences and is my own opinion. This post also contains affiliate links. If you use one of the links below I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you. You can read more about all that on our Privacy Policy Page and Disclaimer and Disclosure Page!

What is Financial Aid (In a nutshell)

Financial aid (according to Merriam-Webster) is “money that is given or lent to students in order to help pay for their education.”

That sounds about right. It’s money that you use to pay for school. Sometimes you have to give it back, sometimes it’s yours to keep!

Obviously you should want student aid that you don’t have to give back.

That being said there are three types of financial aid to know about.


Student loans, we all hear about the massive debt you can get into when going to college. You’re main goal when looking into financial aid should be to avoid debt.

So loans should always be your LAST resort! No matter how tempting and easy they make if for you to get them!


This is money that people give you for your education, you don’t need to pay them back in any way! These are a great way to pay for college! Yes, even in 2020!

There are still plenty of scholarships to go around, no matter what people tell you! If you’re interested in finding scholarships that are less common and applied to less. Check out 5 Uncommon Places to Find Scholarships!


These are the actually goldmines of financial aid. You want grants and you want as many as you can get!

These are often much larger and for multiple years, unlike scholarships that are usually small amounts and a one-time thing.

You can get grants a lot of different ways! You can and should apply for them, sometimes your college will randomly give them to you, or you can get them from the FAFSA (mainly the Federal Pell Grant.)

How to Get Financial Aid

I’m going to keep this section pretty general because all colleges are different. I’m going to speak from my own experience and you should alter this advise for your own college.

Complete the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is an online application that many colleges require you to fill out before they will dispense your student aid.

So fill it out! I can write another post about the FAFSA in the future, but know that you’ll need your income from 2 years ago and also your parent’s income from 2 years ago. You’ll also need your driver’s license and your social.

The application is fairly painless and self explanatory.

Fill out College Questionnaire

I’m not sure what this looks like for your college but mine was a form that had scholarship questions and status of your enrollment (full-time/part-time.)

Be sure to fill this out quickly!

Some colleges award students aid based on this questionnaire so you’ll want to have that done as soon as you get it to be eligible for everything you possibly can.

For my college this questionnaire is used to dispense both scholarships and grants so make it as accurate as possible.

Because of this questionnaire you might be pleasantly surprised by extra money in your account! I got a random grant for $3000 this semester and I have no idea where it came from but I’m taking it!

Apply for Scholarships and Grants

Now that the college side of everything is taken care of, it’s time to apply for scholarships and grants!

I recommend getting all your information together before you sit down to apply. This makes it much easier to apply for a bunch at a time!

*Ashley’s Helpful Advice* I was told once that I had two options to pay for college. I could work at my job and get paid $8.25/hr or I can spend that time applying for as many scholarships as I could. I could treat applying for scholarships as a job itself. If I spent 2 hours applying for a single scholarship that was worth $1000 and I got it. Then I made $500/hr.

Naturally, you won’t get every scholarship you apply for but if you spend 2 hours working on a single application and everyone else spends about 15 minutes, yours is going to stand out much more and you’ll have better odds!

Trust me on this, if you have the opportunity to treat scholarships like a job, DO IT! I made close to $20,000 before I graduated high school and I eventually paid for my first 2 years of tuition and room/board just with scholarships I applied for before my first day of college.

I’m going to be writing more about scholarships and what scholarship committees are actually looking for! I think it’s really important that we talk about this because there’s terrible information out there about how to apply for scholarships!

If you’d be interested in learning more and also want a free resource “22 Places to Find College Scholarships” click this link to join my email list! I have a lot to share and want to help you pay for college with scholarships, just like I did!

Apply for Loans

If the day comes when you don’t have enough money to pay for college, then it’s time to apply for a loan.

When you apply for a loan you aren’t actually borrowing from your college, it’s from a third party and you’ll be stuck with it even if you dropout.

You’ll also have the option to apply for a loan that is MUCH bigger than you need. Don’t take the full amount! Only take what you need! This will make your life much better in the future.

Taking out a loan should always be your last option. If you are applying to colleges knowing you’ll have to take out a loan, consider going to an in-state college or spend a few years at a community college! Or take a few years off and work, save up your money and then go to college!

There are so many different paths that you can take and that you might not be told about! Look around at your options and see what the best choice for you is (and only you, not your parents/counselor/sibling/anyone else.)

What Can Financial Aid be Used For?

Now that you’ve gotten some student aid, what can it be used for?

You’d be surprised!


The most basic and the thing that comes first is tuition. This will be paid first with your financial aid.

If your college is like mine, you’ll never even see the money you earn in person. It’ll be added to your student account as a positive amount and your fees will be subtracted from that amount. You don’t have to do anything!

Room and Board

If you have extra money in your account after your tuition is paid, the next thing financial aid will pay for is your room and board.m

This is only automatic if you live on campus. Your dorm cost and meal plan will be subtracted just like your tuition was!

Still Got Extra Money?

If you have extra money after your tuition and room and board are paid you get a check in the mail.

That’s right! That money comes to your bank account!

It can be used to pay for anything related to school. (Some scholarships will have stipulations and you should always do your own research, don’t just take my word)

If you live off campus, you can use this money to pay for rent and food! You can use it to buy a new laptop!

Or, you can put it in a savings account and use it to pay for your next years tuition.

This is why you should never stop applying for scholarships! Even if you have all your tuition paid for, you can still use the money to pay for other expenses in college!

The post Basic Guide to Financial Aid appeared first on Secrets of a Forever Student.


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