Financial Aid is money that the government and other organizations give you or lend you so you can pay for college. To qualify for Financial Aid, you must apply. Financial aid comes from the federal government (the largest source), state governments, colleges and universities, private organizations (such as companies, clubs and religious organizations), and banks and lending companies.



    1. Grants:

    Grants are called gift aid because they do not have to be paid back. Grants come from federal and state governments and from colleges. Most grants are need-based, which means they are usually given based on your or your family’s financial circumstances.

    1. Scholarships:

    Scholarships are also gift aid. Scholarships come from colleges and private organizations. They may be awarded for academic or athletic ability, interest in a certain subject, or volunteer work, for example. Some scholarships are given based on membership in an ethnic or religious group. Companies may also give scholarships to children of employees. (See our separate link on the left regarding Scholarships.)

    1. Loans:

    Borrowing money from a bank, government or lending company is called taking out a loan. A loan must be paid back with an extra charge called interest. The federal government offers low-interest loans to students with financial need. Other lenders charge more interest.

    1. Work-Study Programs:

    The Federal Work-Study Program offers paid part-time on-campus jobs to help students pay for part of their college cost.



    U.S. citizens or eligible noncitizens can complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be considered for financial aid from the federal government, state governments and many colleges. The Retention of Illinois Students & Equity (RISE) Act allows eligible undocumented  students and transgender students who are disqualified from federal financial aid to apply for all forms of state financial aid. The Alternative Application for Illinois Financial Aid provides a pathway for these qualified students to apply for Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants, the state's largest need-based grant program for low-income college students. More information and application can be found here

    Some colleges may also require you to submit the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE or their own private forms. Remember, meeting deadlines is your responsibility. You have to submit your applications on time to qualify for financial aid. October 1 of your senior year is the first day you can file the FAFSA. College, state and private financial aid deadlines vary. Aim to file the FAFSA as close to October 1 as possible; many colleges are recommending the FAFSA to be completed by November 15. Financial aid dollars are limited, and in many cases are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. In previous years, the MAP Grant (awarded/funded by Illinois and is worth up to $5,340) ran out of funds two months after the opening date of the FAFSA. This is why it is essential to apply as close to October 1 as you can.

    Use the Student Federal Aid At A Glance info sheet to help you navigate the application process for federal student aid. You can also read about FAFSA programs: program description, type of aid and amount awarded annually. 

    This application is completely free and you may file your FAFSA with your previous year's tax information. There is nothing hurt by applying to see what is possible. In the worst case scenario your family would not qualify for any grants, but still could qualify for loans through the federal government. This works in your favor because the interest percentage for the loans you would get from the government is much lower than the rate from any other institution offering loans. Another reason to take out a loan is to start building good credit. Also, some colleges award merit scholarships and require the FAFSA to be filled out in order to be considered for scholarships. Remember, you must file a FAFSA every year in October to be considered for federal student aid the following year. 




    Net price is the real price that a student pays to go to a college. It is the net cost (the published price of the college) minus the gift aid the student receives. The net price of a college is often much lower than its published price. Colleges offer a tool on their websites called a net price calculator. This online tool gives an estimate of the actual price you would pay to go to a certain college, based on information you enter about your finances. Your net price will be different for every college, so it’s a good idea to use each college’s net price calculator. 



    A college with a higher price tag might offer you generous financial aid. It might even be more affordable than colleges that charge lower tuition. So think about net price, not net cost (published price), and don’t be afraid to apply to colleges you think you can’t afford. Once you hear from the colleges you’ve applied to, compare your financial aid offers (usually offered in March or April) to see which options are best. Use this Financial Aid Comparison Worksheet to compare your college costs to see which college is more affordable. This Financial Aid Letter Comparision tool is also a great resource. You have until May 1 to commit to a college.




        This is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. If you are applying to a college/university for financial aid, you must complete this application. Even if you believe you will not qualify for Financial Aid, you should complete the forms because colleges have access to this information and could be able to award private scholarships based on your information from the FAFSA. The first official date to file for FAFSA, is October 1 of senior year. It is highly recommended to complete the FAFSA by November 15.

    Tips for filling out the FAFSA

    Step-by-step information for filling out each section of the FAFSA created by the University of California, Santa Barbara

    You filled out the FAFSA. What happens next?




       This is a free financial aid calculator that gives you an early estimate of your eligibility for federal student aid. This information helps families plan ahead for college. You must use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid(FAFSA®) to apply for aid once you’ve decided to apply for admission and attend college.


    CSS/Financial Aid Profile

        Some colleges offer the CSS profile as a means for rewarding additional grants/scholarships from their own institution. The CSS profile asks more specific questions than what is on the FAFSA as a means of understanding your family financial circumstances better. The CSS Profile can be found on the College Board website. 



        This provides information on federal and private loans and scholarship programs sponsored by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.  


    Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) 

        Also referred to as College Zone, ISAC has primary responsibility for student financial aid for Illinois students and their families. You can reach out to our representative from ISAC to answer any questions about financial aid and/or the FAFSA.  Her name Ciara White: Ciara.White@illinois.gov.