The ABCs of financial aid

Don't panic if your family doesn’t have all of the financial resources you need to pay for college; there’s a wealth of financial assistance out there to help you. There was over $2 billion of free college money (Pell Grants from the federal government) unclaimed by students last year! You won’t know unless you try. Don’t leave money on the table!

Start by learning as much as you can about the many financial aid programs that are available. Use this quick link to learn all about federal sources of aid, including the Pell: Then talk to the financial aid offices at the colleges you’re considering. 

Louisiana has one of the nation’s best tuition assistance programs, TOPS (see page 40), but there are also hundreds of nonprofits, organizations and businesses that have scholarship programs to help you.

There are four main types of financial aid you should know about:

• SCHOLARSHIPS (including TOPS), which are often based on merit or need and usually do not have to be repaid;

• GRANTS, which are typically based on need and do not have to be repaid (both the federal government and Louisiana have generous grant programs, which you can apply for by submitting your FAFSA on the myStudentAid app or at;

• LOANS, which can come from the federal government or private institutions like banks and do have to be repaid;

• WORK-STUDY, which means your school or the government helps you find a job to contribute to educational expenses.

Your college itself is the best source for seeking financial aid, which is why you should never eliminate a college from your “short list” solely because of price. College financial aid officers spend all of their time working in this area and they know what’s available. The financial aid office at your college or other postsecondary school will help you put together a “package” of aid that may include TOPS and institutional scholarships AND loans AND other aid, such as a Pell Grant.

If you think you will need aid beyond TOPS and your family’s contributions, your first option should be scholarships. Organizations from state to local to national have a variety of scholarship programs for people just like you. Brainstorm a list of all the affiliations you or your parents have (employers, religious organizations, clubs) and inquire about scholarships.

Some excellent additional sources of information on financial aid and searching for scholarships are and Finally, go to to learn more about how much each college costs and how successful their students are.

Word to the wise: Start now! By February, most scholarship deadlines have passed and the money is drying up!  


It all starts with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. With this one application, you can apply for financial aid at all colleges and from multiple funding sources (federal, state, institutional and private providers of assistance), including TOPS. You and a parent or guardian can go to to fill out the form online beginning Oct. 1—or just use the new myStudentAid app and file from your phone! Alleluia! EVERYONE should submit a FAFSA, no matter what their financial means or what kind of school they plan on attending.

Click on any logo for free information!