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Jan 2, 2013 Learning About Government Financial Assistance Series: Federal Student Aid
This is an image of a piggy bank on top of text books next to a blackboard. In our continuing series about government financial aid, we first presented an article about grants vs. loans in October's Compass. With college admission letters beginning to arrive in millions of mailboxes across the country, is turning our attention to Federal student aid to help familiarize prospective college students and their families about the options available to them.

Federal student aid programs are available to eligible students enrolled in college or career school in three main forms: grants, loans, and work-study. A financial aid package includes the total amount of Federal and non-Federal financial aid offered by a college or career school to help a student pay their education costs.

Getting Started - Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) - You must complete the FAFSA before applying for Federal student financial aid. For the 2013-2014 academic year, students may apply starting on January 1, 2013 through June 30, 2013. FAFSA covers the entire academic year, so students must apply annually. And, if possible, submit the form early since there are several first-come, first-serve Federal student aid programs - see student aid deadlines. Apply online or order a paper copy of the FAFSA application by calling 877-433-7827 or email The June 30, 2013 deadline remains the same for online and paper applications.

Student Aid Categories - After completing the FAFSA, students may apply for three main forms of Federal student aid, as follows:
  • Federal Grants - A grant is an award of financial assistance that varies by amount and eligibility requirements, and need not be repaid. Pell Grants are Federal needs-based awards offered to low-income undergraduate and certain post-baccalaureate students.
  • Federal Student Loans - The Department of Education, a partner, offers eligible students at participating schools Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans. These loans differ from private loans and offer such benefits as fixed interest rates and income-based repayment plans, while private loans are generally more expensive than Federal student loans and may have more restrictions. Click here to view a chart summarizing the differences between the two.
  • Federal Work-Study - Work-study programs offer part-time employment (often in the individual's chosen field) to eligible students while enrolled in school.
Now that you know the basics about Federal student aid, continue your journey on our homepage by using these resources to expand your search:
  • Benefit Finder - Click "Start Now" to begin our confidential eligibility questionnaire. Your answers instantly generate a list of benefits tailored to your specific needs across 20 assistance categories.
  • Browse Benefits - If you have a specific need, select "Benefits" at the top of the page to browse benefit and assistance programs by category, state, or Federal agency.