Dec 05, 2019 Alyssa Pascarella

Financial Aid 101 - The Highlights

'Tis the season to talk financial aid, and the experts from our College Planning Center have been talking about financial aid with students and families, one-on-one, as well as in group presentations at local high schools almost daily since September and are still going strong.

If you could not attend one of our sessions or meet with us at our office, we have recapped our Financial Aid 101 presentation to highlight “What you need to know about financial aid.” We hope you find this helpful.


Terms & Acronyms

  • FAFSA- Free Application for Federal Student Aid -
  • CSS Profile- College Scholarship Service Profile is administered by the College Board and is required by about 400 colleges and universities to determine aid eligibility for non-government financial aid. The initial fee is $25. Fee waivers are available for eligible students. (Additional schools cost $16 each).
  • COA- Cost of Attendance includes direct costs (those on your tuition bill) and indirect costs (such as books and living expenses). Examples: Tuition and fees, Room and board, Books & Supplies, and Transportation
  • SAI- Student Aid Index is determined by Federal Student Aid once you have filed your FAFSA. Many factors affect SAI, each having a different weight. Some of these factors include parents’ and students’ prior year income, value of parent and student assets, size of household, age of oldest parent, and more.

Tip: You can use RISLA’s SAI calculator to estimate how much you will be expected to pay for college.

Financial Aid Sources

Financial aid helps you pay for college and can be provided through:
  • The federal government
  • Your resident state
  • School (college or university)
  • Private business or organization

Aid Award Categories & Types

  • Merit-Based- awarded by schools for academics, athletics, other talents, etc.
Tip: Using the school’s Net Price Calculator on each school’s website will give you an estimate of aid for that particular school.
  • Need-Based- determined by mathematical formulas based on various student and family financial data

Tip: FAFSA submission determines need-based federal aid eligibility, and the CSS Profile may be requested to determine institutional aid at some private schools.

Federal Aid
  • Federal Pell Grant, maximum award, changes each year.
  • Federal Work Study, provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help contribute towards education expenses.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, awarded to students with exceptional financial need. Awards range from $100 - $4,000.

Tip: If you need assistance filling out FAFSA for a CSS Profile, you can schedule a free one-on-one appointment with the college planning center.

Bridging the Financial Aid Gap

When scholarships and grants do not cover all financial needs, there are additional self-help sources to help pay for college.

State-Based Grants (Repayment not required)
  • Amount awarded depends on the state you live in
  • Application procedures vary
  • To become eligible for consideration, a student must submit a completed FAFSA
  • Students should contact the Financial Aid Office at the college they plan to attend for complete program details

Scholarships (Repayment not required)

Scholarships aren’t just for “star” students; scholarships are available to students with certain interests or professional aspirations.

  • Start local (
  • Never pay a service to find scholarships, typically a scam
  • Expand your search beyond the internet: guidance counselors, newspapers, and library
  • Invest the time; a thorough scholarship search cannot be completed in one day
Institutional Grants (Repayment not required)
  • Awarded by college or university based on financial need
  • School may use the federal or institutional methodology to determine the need
  • Grant amounts vary based on the school’s available funds each year
Federal Direct Loan Subsidized
  • Awarded to students with financial need according to FAFSA
  • No interest added to principal balance while student is in school
Federal Direct Loan Unsubsidized
  • Awarded to students who cannot prove financial need according to FAFSA
  • Interest accrued and added to the principal balance while the student is in school
Year in School Annual Limit
(Subsidized & Unsubsidized)
Additional Unsubsidized Loan Limit (Independent Students Only)
First Year $3,500 Sub & $2,000 Unsub $6,000
Second Year $4,500 Sub & $2,000 Unsub $6,000
Third - Fifth Years $5,500 Sub & $2,000 Unsub $7,000
Graduate Students $8,5000 Unsub $12,000
Federal PLUS (Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students)
  • Borrow up to the COA minus financial aid award
  • Interest rate varies per academic year 
  • PLUS fee 4.248%
  • 10-year repayment term
  • Can defer principal payments until 6 months after graduation
  • Must arrange to pay interest during deferment, or it will be added to the loan principal
State-Based Loans
  • Offered through non-profit agencies throughout the U.S., such as RISLA
  • Typically, very competitive interest rates, often fixed

Tip: Be sure you understand rates, any fees, and terms with state-based lenders before you borrow.

Private Student Loans
  • Offered by banks and other for-profit lending organizations
  • Repayment may be deferred or immediate
  • Usually a variable interest rate, but some fixed rates are offered

Tip: Rates, fees, and terms vary per lender be sure to investigate thoroughly.

College-Based Loans
  • Some schools have institutional loan programs; check with your Financial Aid Office
  • Terms will vary from school to school

Tip: Be sure you understand rates and terms and know that you are not obligated to accept a college-based loan just because it is listed on your financial aid award. This is optional for your consideration.

Bridging the gap can be stressful, and researching and asking questions will be the best way to make informed decisions. We have talked to thousands of families throughout the years and have put together a guide to help you borrow responsibly, if borrowing is needed, with your families’ best interests in mind.

Download Borrowing Guide


Now, in conclusion, take a breath. This is a lot of information and can be overwhelming. That is why we are here to help. If you would like to speak to one of our experts regarding financial aid and filing your FAFSA or CSS Profile, schedule an appointment at the College Planning Center soon. We look forward to discussing a plan that works for you!

Published by Alyssa Pascarella December 5, 2019