How Financial Aid Works & How To Apply For Financial Aid Explained By Crimson Admission Experts

22/11/202111 minute read
How Financial Aid Works & How To Apply For Financial Aid Explained By Crimson Admission Experts

Let's face it. College is expensive. It's a massive investment without a guaranteed return on investment (ROI). Maybe you think college will help you get a fulfilling job with a high salary. Or perhaps you want to pursue a specific career path so you can use your education to benefit others. Whatever your reasons, the cost of tuition shouldn't deter you from achieving your dreams.

What Is Financial Aid?

Financial aid is money you can use to help pay for college. According to the Education Data Initiative, "86% of college students benefit from some form of financial aid". You can receive aid based on financial need or merit. Financial aid comes in many forms, including scholarships, grants, work-study programs, loans, tax credits, and other programs.

How Does Financial Aid Work?

Financial aid comes from many sources, including colleges, high schools, foundations, and federal and state agencies. It's awarded based on need. You must pay back some forms of financial aid, and some don't require repayment. To be eligible for need-based financial aid, you must apply by answering questions about your finances to help determine if you have the means to pay for college. If you're interested in scholarships or other forms of financial aid, you may have to fill out additional applications.

What is Need-Based Financial Aid & How Does It Work?

Need-based financial aid is based on your family's financial needs. If you can demonstrate need, you'll receive this type of financial aid. When you complete the required financial aid forms (FAFSA and/or CSS Profile), your family's ability to cover college costs is determined, and the result is what's called the "family contribution". The "family contribution" is subtracted from your school's fees, and the final figure is your demonstrated need. The most familiar type of need-based aid is a grant, but need-based aid can also come from a campus work-study job or subsidized student loan.

How To Apply For Need-Based Financial Aid?

You can apply for need-based financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) beginning on October 1 of your senior year of high school and every year after that. Through the FAFSA, you'll have access to federal, state, and most colleges' financial aid. Nearly 18 million students (66%) apply for federal financial aid through FAFSA each year.

What Is Merit-Based Financial Aid?

You can receive merit-based financial aid through scholarships. You can earn these scholarships for high achievements during high school, including academics, athletics, music, arts, and many other categories.

Can you get financial aid from the IRS?

The US government offers financial aid to qualified applicants when you file your federal income tax return. The government provides education tax benefits, including the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), Lifetime Learning Tax Credit (LLTC), and Student Loan Interest Deduction.

Need help with your financial aid applications? Our dedicated team of financial aid advisors and experts understand the process of financial assistance, can help you with your applications, and answer any questions you may have about financial aid. Book a free consultation to learn more about our scholarships and financial aid options

Top 10 US Colleges That Offer The Most Financial Aid

In addition to government-funded financial aid, many colleges offer private financial aid programs. Utilizing both government and private funding, the following colleges offer the most financial aid:

Can I afford to study in the US?

How To Apply For Financial Aid - Top Tips & Advice From Crimson’s Financial Aid Experts

Crimson offers scholarship and FAFSA support to our students. Our dedicated team of financial aid advisors and experts understand the process of financial assistance, can help you with your applications, and answer any questions you may have about financial aid. Our lead advisors sat down with us to answer some of the most common financial aid questions. If you have further questions, please don't hesitate to contact us.

If a student needs financial aid, what should they do first?

Start with researching the financial aid process. Become familiar with the financial aid policies at the schools on your list, the types of aid they have available, the forms you will need to complete, and any deadlines you need to meet.

How much financial aid can one student receive (per semester/total)?

The amount of financial aid a student can receive depends on multiple factors specific to each student. These factors include, but are not limited to, the school's cost of attendance (tuition, room and board, books, supplies, etc.), the student's financial situation, citizenship, background, and involvements, as well as the school's aid policies and available sources of aid.

What other lesser-known organizations offer financial aid to students?

While most families are familiar with federal and state financial aid programs, a primary source of financial assistance in the US is colleges and universities. According to, academic institutions dispersed a total of $76 billion in aid in 2018-19. Other sources of aid include scholarships or grants from private foundations like the Gates Foundation, Coca-Cola Foundation, and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Students should also look to employers and local foundations for scholarships and grants.

How does a college's "need-blind or need-aware" status affect financial aid opportunities?

"Need-blind" or "need-aware" admission policies do not directly impact a student's financial aid opportunities as the school's ability to meet your full demonstrated need can differ under each of these policies. When applying to "need-blind" or "need-aware" schools, be aware of the school's stated ability to meet your "full demonstrated need," which we will discuss in more detail later.

What do you need to include in a financial aid appeal letter?

Financial aid appeal letters address a significant change in your family's financial situation that was not on your original financial aid applications (income loss or a one-time gain, substantial and unexpected medical or household expenses). Therefore, you should include the details of the specific circumstances, such as what happened and when it occurred, and to what extent the family's financial situation has changed, and whether this is a permanent or temporary change. You should also include any relevant documentation specific to your situation.

Can a college match a financial aid offer from another college?

The answer depends on the individual college's policies and practices. Many schools follow a best-foot-forward policy that presents the student with the best financial aid offer possible, based on the information you provided them and their available resources. Before approaching a school, it is best to see if the school has a stated policy on award matching.

What does "meeting full demonstrated need" mean?

When a college "meets full demonstrated need," that means the financial aid office has offered the student a financial aid package that covers the difference between the school's total Cost of Attendance (tuition, room, board, books, supplies, and transportation) and the family's ability to cover those costs, as determined by the results from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and/or the CSS Profile.

For example, if the school's Cost of Attendance is $80,000 and your family's ability to pay is determined to be $20,000, the school will meet your full demonstrated need by offering you financial aid to cover the $60,000 gap.

A caveat: meeting full demonstrated need does not mean "no loans." The financial aid offered will provide resources to cover the gap. Depending upon a student's eligibility, the school's enrollment goals, and budget, the student's demonstrated need should be met with a combination of grants, scholarships, and loans.

What's the best piece of advice you'd give to a student hoping to secure financial aid?

Do your research and explore all of your options. There are many types of financial aid available from many sources. By being aware of the timelines, requirements, and eligibility requirements, students can put themselves in the best position possible to receive the best offer that reflects their academic and financial circumstances.

What financial aid is available to international students?

The primary sources of financial aid for international students come from scholarships, grants, and private student loans from specific colleges. The availability of these awards will depend on the school's admission (need-blind or need-aware) and aid policies for international students, so it is important to do your research. International students can also seek out scholarships from private foundations and other organizations dedicated to supporting study in the US.

How Crimson Helps Students with their Financial Aid

Crimson Education can help you apply for financial aid. Read the blog to learn mroe

How do we assist students in their financial aid applications?

We start with a thorough walk-through of both financial aid applications, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)* and the CSS Profile. This initial walk-through helps students and their families prepare for applying and enables us to speak to any unique family circumstances that they will need to address in the application process. We thoroughly review the applications before submission to ensure they filled out the applications correctly.

*Only domestic and eligible non-citizen applicants can complete the FAFSA.

What is the role of a Crimson Financial Aid Consultant?

To guide and support Crimson students and their families through the merit scholarship and financial aid application processes and serve as a resource to them as questions or challenges arise.

What types of financial aid services does Crimson offer?

We offer three distinct services to Crimson families:

  • Financial Aid Review includes three hours of one-on-one time with a Financial Aid consultant. We discuss financial aid strategy, merit scholarships, and review financial aid applications. We also include an additional two hours for email and messaging support.
  • Financial Aid Support includes seven hours of one-on-one time with a Financial Aid Consultant to discuss aid strategy, merit scholarships, and assistance with the financial aid application process. We provide an additional two hours for email and messaging support.
  • Merit Scholarship Support includes by-the-hour support to research and identify merit scholarship opportunities, support in determining which scholarships to pursue, and financial aid-specific advice through the application process. Please note that this service does not include writing assistance for the merit scholarship applications, which will require support from a Strategist and Application Mentor.

Final Thoughts

Don't let finances limit your college dreams. Take advantage of financial help from the state and federal government, colleges, private organizations, scholarships, and other independent entities. By utilizing all financial aid options, you'll have more opportunities to study at a college that's perfect for you.

Learn how Crimson can help you secure financial support.