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Colleging Efficiently Pt. 3: Financial Aid 101

Updated: Apr 9, 2022

We all know that college costs quite a bit of money. In fact, in the last 20 years, the cost has risen over 140% for private, in-state, and out-of-state tuition. For many students, this has meant putting down the idea of going to their dream school or even college at all.

But what many students don't realize is that the price on college brochures--the sticker price--isn't the actual cost. The real cost of college that students should focus on is the net price, which takes into account scholarships, grants, and tax benefits (which you can read about in our article here.).

Net price is based on each student's financial needs. Different students will qualify for different types of financial aid based on their needs. We're breaking down the different types of financial aid for you in this article so you can be like the 83.8% of first year undergrad students that utilize it to reduce their college costs.


There are 4 kinds of financial aid:

  1. Grants.

  • These are financial funds provided through the government (federal or state), schools, or alternate organizations.

    • Click here for US grants for North Carolina!

  • They can be for countless purposes, whether that be for education, start-ups, projects, or more.

  • The majority do not require repayment as long as you continue pursuing what the grant was provided for.

  • To learn more about eligibility, repayment, and other aspects of grants, look into Federal Student Aid’s webpage.

2. Scholarships.

  • Scholarships are likely what you are most familiar with.

  • These can be provided through schools, non-profit organizations, businesses, and countless other places.

  • Scholarships typically involve more demands during the application, but there is no limit as to how many you can earn.

  • Not only can they provide financial assistance, but they can also help set you apart during college apps. Colleges want to see accomplishments, and a competitive scholarship is one of the best kinds!

  • It is important to understand how scholarships work and which to apply for. To do so, read through our Scholarships FAQ article.

  • Click here to view scholarship opportunities based on school year.

3. Federal or private loans.

  • Federal loans are provided by the government and typically have fixed, and lower interest rates. Private loans are provided by other financial institutions such as banks. FSA goes more into detail here.

  • Loans should be considered as a last resort economically, as you do have to pay them back with interest, typically 5.8% according to EducationData. However, they are still extremely helpful and 30-40% of undergrads take advantage of federal loans every year.

  • Loans can provide the same benefits as grants and scholarships, and are typically more accessible. They are also provided by a larger range of places in comparison to grants and scholarships.

  • If you have good credit and are willing to pay back, loans can also provide larger amounts of financial aid.

  • To learn about loan limits, or how much you can earn from loans, click here.

  • The repayment period for federal student loans is usually 10 years. Private loans are also often 10 years but can vary based on the source and other conditions of the loan.

  • In regards to repayment itself, LendEDU provides 12 great tips!

4. Work-study programs.

  • Lastly, we have work-study programs which allow you to get an education while earning pay and work experience.

  • Work-study programs can often demand a lot, however, they provide a head start into the workforce for their students.

  • Several work-study programs can be found through colleges/universities.

    • UNC Charlotte provides Work-Study Job Postings here.

  • Work-study programs can also lead to a higher chance of future job offers.

  • To learn more about the advantages, disadvantages, and further details of these programs, check out our Alternative Paths article as well as FederalStudentAid’s more detailed breakdown.

VSAC goes further into detail about types of financial aid here:

As you’ve likely concluded by now, financial aid can be a little overwhelming. If you still haven’t grasped the concept or for my visual and auditory learners out there, this video sums up all the information you require!


  • An easy start to applying for financial aid would be to contact your counselor. Counselors will have access to many local opportunities. The more local, the more likely you are to receive aid, as there is typically less competition or candidates.

  • Follow FederalStudentAid’s process for financial aid. Start by filling out the FAFSA form.

    • FAFSA application is quite a long process and therefore must be completed as soon as possible. Applying early can provide you with more financial opportunities as well. This video walks you through the FAFSA, its application process, and more.

  • Financial aid packages are specific financial aid offerings provided by each school. Each school will likely be willing to provide different totals of aid, so be sure to consider each school’s financial advantages when committing or applying.


  • Federal aid eligibility can be based on:

    • Financial need,

    • your status as a U.S. Citizen,

    • your academic progress,

    • and more.

  • For more details, click here.

  • Based on personal/specific situations (military in family, homelessness, international students, etc.), you may have access to more kinds of aid.

  • If you lost your eligibility, here is how to regain it.

Find this helpful? Subscribe to our newsletter AlumniAlert for more advice and check out our Opportunities page for scholarships and other opportunities we’ve curated for you.

If you have any further questions or advice about financial aid, please comment below!


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