Where to Get Money to Go to School?

Whether you’re enrolling in college for the first time or returning to school after a period of time off, you should apply for federal student aid.

Federal student aid from the U.S. Department of Education is the largest source of aid in America, providing over $150 billion in grants, work-study, and federal loans for students attending four-year colleges or universities, community colleges, and career schools. On this page, we discuss who gets aid, the types of aid available, how to apply, and more!

Who Gets Aid

Student Aid Eligibility

Eligibility for most federal student aid is based on financial need and on several other factors.

The most basic eligibility requirements to receive federal student aid
are that you must

  • be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen,
  • have a valid Social Security number,
  • register (if you haven’t already) with the Selective Service, if you’re a male between the ages of 18 and 25,
  • maintain satisfactory academic progress in college or career school, and
  • show you’re qualified to obtain a postsecondary education by
    • having a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate;
    • passing an approved ability-to-benefit test (if you don’t have a diploma or GED certificate, a school can administer a test to determine whether you can benefit from the education offered at that school);
    • completing six credit hours or equivalent course work toward a degree or certificate;
    • meeting other federally approved standards your state establishes; or
    • completing a high school education in a homeschool setting approved under state law.

Read more about student aid eligibility

Types of Aid TOP

Federal Student Aid Programs

We offer the following types of aid to help you pay for your education after high school.

Explore Other Sources of Aid

Reduce Education Costs

  • Check for Tax Breaks
    Read IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education to see how you might benefit from federal income tax credits for education expenses.
  • Saving Money

    You and your family can set up a tax-free Coverdell Education Savings Account—money from this account can be withdrawn without penalty. Learn about the tax advantages of state college savings plans and prepaid tuition plans at www.collegesavings.org
  • 30 Ways to Reduce College Costs

Apply for Aid TOP

Applying for federal student aid is quicker and easier than ever. You can complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSAsm) at www.fafsa.gov. Follow these easy steps to simplify the process of applying for federal student aid.

  1. Gather the documents needed to apply. For example, you’ll need
    • income tax returns (yours and most likely your parents),
      W-2 forms, and other records of income, and
    • identification documents (social security cards, drivers licenses).

    Get the complete list of documents

  2. Apply online at FAFSA on the WebSM. Submit a FAFSA.
    The FAFSA is used to apply for federal financial aid (grants, work-study, and loans). Also, many colleges, universities, and career schools use your FAFSA information to award state and college aid. The process is free. Never pay to apply for federal financial aid.
    You’ll need a PIN to “sign” your online FAFSA, make corrections to the application, and more. If you are a dependent student, your parent will need one too. You can get your PIN before you begin or as you complete the FAFSA — it’s up to you. Get a PIN now!
    Note: Complete the FAFSA each year, starting on January 1. Be sure you meet application deadlines. For deadlines, visit www.fafsa.ed.gov.
  3. Get free information and help from
    • your school counselor,
    • the financial aid office at the college, university, or career school you plan to attend, or
    • the U.S. Department of Education at www.fafsa.gov (online chat is also available), or call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).


What’s Next? TOP

After You Submit the FAFSA

We process your FAFSA and the results are sent electronically to the schools you listed on your application, and we send you a Student Aid Report (SAR).

The Student Aid Report (SAR)

Your SAR summarizes all the information you provided on your FAFSA. It must be correct before you can receive federal aid. Read the information below to find out how and when you will receive your SAR, and what to do with it once you receive it.

How and when you will receive your SAR

Generally, it takes less time to process and send the SAR to you when you submit the FAFSA online and provide a valid e-mail address. If we have your valid e-mail address, you’ll get your SAR e-mail in three to five days. This e-mail contains a secure link to your SAR online. If you don’t provide a valid e-mail address, it takes about seven to 10 days before you’ll receive your SAR by postal mail.

If you submit a paper FAFSA, you’ll receive your SAR by e-mail within 2 weeks, or 3 weeks if you do not provide an e-mail address.

Note: If you have a PIN and your FAFSA has been processed, you can login at www.fafsa.gov to view SAR information regardless of whether you filed the online or paper FAFSA or provided an e-mail address or not.

What to do with your SAR

When you get your SAR, review it for accuracy.

A complete, correct SAR will contain your

If you need to make corrections to your SAR, you can

  • make them online using your PIN at www.fafsa.gov.
  • check with your school; the school might be able to make them for you electronically.

If you received a paper SAR, make any necessary corrections on that SAR and mail it to the address on the form for processing.
See Correcting Your FAFSA.

Your Financial Aid

Make sure the financial aid office at each school you’re interested in has all the information needed to determine your eligibility. Follow all directions on any communications from the school or from the U.S. Department of Education, and respond by any deadlines. If you don’t, you might not receive federal student aid.

The Financial Aid Award

If you listed a school on your FAFSA and have been offered admission by that school, the financial aid office at the school will send you an award letter (most likely electronically). The award letter includes the types and amounts of financial aid you may receive from federal, state, and school sources. This combination of aid is your financial aid package.

Sample Financial Aid Package

Review each award letter carefully and compare how much aid you can receive at each school. Pay attention to letters or e-mail from schools, follow all directions, and contact the financial aid office if you do not understand what the school is offering you. Again, if you don’t, you might not receive federal student aid.

Borrowing Responsibly

Your financial aid package may include federal student loans.
In the case of loans, keep in mind that whatever amount you borrow must be paid back with interest. While loans can be a good investment in your future, taking out a federal student loan is a serious obligation.

Receiving the Money

Schools must pay you at least once per term (semester, trimester, or quarter). If your school doesn’t use formally defined, traditional terms, then they must pay you at least twice per academic year.

Your school will

  • credit your grant funds to your school account,
  • pay you directly (usually by check),
  • combine these methods, or with your permission,
  • credit your bank account.