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Money Mantras: A Breakdown of Common Financial Aid Terms

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The road to college is a busy one, a highway full of applications, test scores and big decisions. One of the biggest, if not the biggest, of these decisions is figuring out how to pay for college. With the costs of postsecondary education getting higher and higher, it is important to be aware of all your resources and know just what is available for you, especially since many times, students can be completely unaware of the unclaimed scholarships and financial awards they are able to receive.

Entering into the world of financial aid can be a challenge, and one can easily be overwhelmed by the plethora of terms out there that are commonly used. But VOX is here to help guide you on your journey through financial aid by showing you 10 common terms in the world of financial aid.

  1. Scholarship — a payment made for a student’s education, provided based on several factors, including financial and academic needs. Scholarships can be given by a host of organizations and programs, usually requiring you to submit something for consideration such as an essay or video. Sources for scholarships include Fastweb,, and Unigo.
  1.  Grant — money given for a particular purpose, in this case to a student for their education, usually provided by a state or federal government-affiliated organization. Most grants, such as the Federal Pell Grant, are given, due to financial need. Usually these require students to fill out an application detailing their family’s financial situation. Students can apply independently of their parents under certain circumstances.
  1. Loan — money that is borrowed (in this case for educational purposes) and is expected to be paid back after you graduate from college. There are two main categories loans fall under in most cases: subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Subsidized loans have the government pay off the interest while the student is in college or during a loan payment postponement (also known as a deferment — a period of time when you are temporarily allowed to postpone or reduce the amount you pay — which you must qualify for). Unsubsidized loans are loans that have additional interest accumulated along with the interest already on the loan.

There are also optional PLUS (Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students) loans that are offered to qualifying parents to help students pay for college. Loans are often used to cover any costs that grants and scholarships can’t cover. Loans can be troubling, however, as a majority of young adults leaving college are often kept down by thousands of dollars in debt. However, there are sometimes ways students can diminish the costs of loans.

Work Study — Programs and internships, such as working in the cafeteria, gym or alongside professors in classrooms, allow college students to work part-time at school. Most of these internships do offer payment to students, while others offer class credits.

Merit-Based — a type of scholarship or financial aid given to students based on academic and community achievement and involvement. These kinds of rewards are commonly given to students with high SAT or ACT scores, loads of community service hours and high GPAs. Underclassmen can start earning these kinds of scholarships early by getting involved in after-school clubs and groups, as well as keeping up grades and studying habits.

Need-Based — scholarships or other awards granted based on financial situations. Most of the time, federal, institutional and state grants are given as need-based, and information about your family’s financial status must usually be given in order to be considered for consideration.

FAFSA — The Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) is an application that must be filled out around the beginning of every year to see if a student qualifies for financial aid. The form usually requires your parent’s financial and tax information. However, students can apply as emancipated or without parent/s under certain circumstances. From there, it will recommend qualifying federal and state grants and loans, as well as the amounts offered.

Interest — the money paid at a particular percentage rate for the use of a loan.

Full Ride — a scholarship that covers the cost of just about everything for a student’s education including books, tuition and fees, and sometimes even room and board, unlike full tuition, such as Georgia Southern’s 1906 Scholarship, that often exclude housing. A lot of these kinds of scholarships, such as the Emory University Scholars and University of Georgia’s Foundation Fellowship scholarship, are usually merit-based and can sometimes simply be given for a combination of high SAT or ACT scores, strong GPAs and community service hours.

CSS Profile — Much like the FAFSA, CSS Profile is a way for students to receive financial aid from state and federal programs. Unlike FAFSA, which needs to be completed around the beginning of the year in January, CSS Profiles can be done any time year round, which is helpful for students applying for early decision to colleges or students starting college in the second semester. Just keep in mind that there is a $25 fee involved when filling this out, unlike FAFSA.

Of course, this is only a small list of terms to keep in mind when navigating the world of financial aid, and you’ll likely find out about more of these terms as you continue to do so. The most important thing, however, is that you find what works for you to make sure you’re on the best road for success!

For more terms and definitions regarding financial aid, you can visit the Federal Student Aid Glossary.

Related Story: Check out Alimah’s tips for applying to college

by Mikael, 18, is a rising freshman at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). He also created the art for this story.  

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