Financial Aid Resources and Tools

Financial Aid Resources and Tools. Photo of the Math Building on The Ohio State University campus.

A collection of Financial Aid and other education-related websites to help you in your research.

Jump to General Financial Aid Sites | Scholarship Search Websites | Private Student Loan Websites


General Financial Aid Websites

  • Federal Student Aid – A great starting place for general information about Financial Aid and the various Financial Aid processes.
  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) – The FAFSA is where you will begin your application process for Federal and State Student Aid.  It is required by all school to create Federal Student Loans and Federal/State Grants.
  • – Complete your Entrance Counseling, Exit Counseling, Master Promissory Notes and PLUS Loan Applications online.
  • National Student Loan Data System – Access your entire Federal Student Aid history, including loans and grants.
  •’s Financial Aid Calculators – Contains several useful calculators ranging from a College Cost calculator and Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculator to Savings Plan and Student Budget calculators.
  • EducationUSA – Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, EducationUSA contains a lot of information on Study Abroad, Work Abroad and Internships for U.S. and International Students.
  • U.S. Department of Education – The federal agency which oversees Federal Student Aid programs. Contains a huge repository of information.
  • Online Students’ Guide To Understanding Financial Aid – A “First Stop” resource for students beginning to look at financial aid options. Created by the Maryville University Office of Admissions.


Scholarship Search Websites

Private Student Loan Websites

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Educational Electronics

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Stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is the primary application you must submit to qualify for most types of Federal and State Financial Aid.  The FAFSA is usually submitted online and will ask for both student and parent (for Dependent Students), or just student (for Independent Students) demographic, income and enrollment information.  The FAFSA formulas will generate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

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The EFC, or Expected Family Contribution, is calculated by the U.S. Department of Education as a result of filling out your FAFSA.  The EFC essentially estimates the dollar amount that you and your family could potentially put toward education expenses for the Academic Year.

The EFC is calculated using Federal formulas and the information you submit on the FAFSA.  The formulas generally include, but are not limited to, wages earned, Adjusted Gross Income, your household size and household assets.  Other factors such as your state of residence and your, or your parent’s, age may also factor in.

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The SAR, or Student Aid Report, is the resulting document that the U.S. Department of Education makes available to you after your FAFSA is processed.  After you complete your FAFSA online you should be able to download a PDF copy and request that it be sent to you via email.

The SAR lists your responses to all of the questions on the FAFSA and also shows your Federal Aid history and some additional processing information that your school may use.

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The Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR) is electronic data that your school receives after your FAFSA has been processed.  The ISIR records all of your FAFSA and SAR data but also includes a lot of additional information that is used by your school to determine aid eligibility, Verification status and more.

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Scholarships are awards that are given on the basis of meeting some specific requirement or requirements and, typically, do not have to be repaid.

Scholarships can be awarded by your school, public and private companies, non-profit agencies, clubs, organizations and even by private citizens.

Some scholarships are highly targeted and look for very specific individuals who may be eligible while other scholarships are extremely broad in range and may be awarded through selection by a committee or in a “sweepstakes” format.

There are millions of scholarships available every year so you should start your Scholarship Search early and be persistent in your applications.

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Grants are awards which may be given on the basis of academic performance, financial need or any other measured quality.

Grants may come from the federal government, your state government, your school or from other sources.

With some exceptions, Grants are generally given as “free” money and do not have to be repaid.  There are some grants such as the Federal TEACH Grant, however, that may need to be repaid in the future if you do not continue to meet certain criteria or fulfill certain obligations agreed upon when accepting the award.

Common Federal Grants include the Federal Pell Grant, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant and the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant.

The type and amount of State Grant will vary from state to state.

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Loans are a type of Financial Aid given to help cover immediate education expenses but they must be repaid, often with interest, in the future.

The most common sources of student loans are Federal Direct Student Loans and Private Student Loans but your school may also offer its own Institutional Loans for needy students.  Check directly with your Financial Aid Office to see if Institutional Loans are available.

Federal Student Loans are backed by the U.S. Department of Education and are generally given to students who are enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting academic program.

The types of Federal Student Loans which you may qualify for as an Undergraduate or Graduate/Professional Student include the Direct Subsidized Loan, the Direct Unsubsidized Loan, The Direct PLUS Loan (Parent or Graduate) and the Federal Perkins Loan.

Private Student Loans are loans funded by, and repaid to, banks, credit unions or other private lending institutions.  Private Loans are generally given on the basis of creditworthiness and most will accrue interest starting from the first disbursement to your school.

All Student Loans will have annual loan limits dictated either by the loan program, as with the Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, or by your School’s Cost of Attendance, as with the PLUS Loans and most Private Loans.

The Federal Student Loans also have a lifetime borrowing limit, called the Aggregate Limit, and a maximum eligibility period, based on the published length of your academic program.

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Annual Loan Limit

The maximum amount of loan a student may receive each Academic Year.

The Federal Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans have the following annual limits, based on your academic rank and standing at your school:


First Year Undergraduate Students :

Second Year Undergraduate Students :

Third Year+ Undergraduate Students :

Graduate and Professional Students :

Dependent Students

$5,500 ($3,500 max in Subsidized Loan)

$6,500 ($4,500 max in Subsidized Loan)

$7,500 ($5,500 max in Subsidized Loan)

N/A.  Graduate and Professional Students are Independent

Independent Students

$9,500 ($3,500 max in Subsidized Loan)

$10,500 ($4,500 max in Subsidized Loan)

$12,500 ($5,500 max in Subsidized Loan)

$20,500 (Unsubsidized Loan only)

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Aggregate Loan Limit

The maximum amount of Student Loan which may be borrowed by an individual over their entire course of education.

The most important of these limits are as follows:

Dependent Undergraduate Students :

Independent Undergraduate Students :

Graduate and Professional Students :

Medical School Students (in certain programs) :





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Cost of Attendance (COA)

Your Cost of Attendance (may also be called your Budget) is set by your school and dictates the maximum dollar amount of Financial Aid that may be processed and applied to your account each Academic Year.

The COA will include your tuition and allowances for room and board, books and supplies, transportation and a reasonable amount for general living expenses.

Depending on your school and your academic program, your COA may also include allowances for other items.

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Work-Study may refer to either the Federal Work-Study Program (FWSP) or to a non-federal, school based work-study program.

In general, both federal and non-federal work-study programs allow students to work in jobs either on-campus or at partner non-profit or community service oriented agencies while in school.

Work-Study jobs are usually beneficial for multiple reasons.

These reasons include giving you the ability to work in an area closely related to your major field of study, offering hours that are more flexible with your class schedule than a normal, part-time job and, in the case of Federal Work-Study which is technically a federal Grant, allowing you to earn money that won’t count negatively against you as earned income on your following year’s FAFSA.

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When referring to Financial Aid (as with the Subsidized Loan) this term means that the Federal Government is covering (subsidizing) any interest that would accrue on that loan as long as you are enrolled in an eligible program for at least half-time hours or are in another eligible status such as your initial loan grace period or a valid Deferment status.

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When referring to Financial Aid (as with the Unsubsidized Loan) this term means that the interest on your loan is accruing from the point of the first Disbursement and you, as the loan borrower, are responsible for paying that interest.

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Dependency Status

Whether or not the U.S. Department of Education and your school view you as Dependent or Independent is based on your answers to a series of qualifying questions.

Click to show the Dependency Status Questions for 2013-2014

  • Were you born before Jan. 1, 1990?
  • As of today, are you married?
  • At the beginning of the 2013–2014 school year, will you be enrolled in a master’s or doctorate program?
  • Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training?
  • Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?
  • Do you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014?
  • Do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2014?
  • At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care, or were you a dependent or ward of the court?
  • Has a court in your state of legal residence determined that you are an emancipated minor or that you are in a legal guardianship?
  • At any time on or after July 1, 2012, were you determined to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless (will require documentation and verification)?

If you can answer “Yes” to one or more of those questions, you will generally be considered Independent.

If you cannot answer “Yes” to any question but you feel that you should be considered Independent, you should contact your school’s Financial Aid Office about their Special Circumstance process.

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Dependent Student

A Dependent Student is one who cannot answer “Yes” to one or more of the qualifying Dependency Status questions on the FAFSA.

As a Dependent Student your parent/guardian must submit their income and household information along with yours on the FAFSA.

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Independent Student

An Independent Student is one who can answer “Yes” to one or more of the qualifying Dependency Status questions on the FAFSA.

As an Independent Student, you are not required to provide parental information or income on the FAFSA and your Financial Aid eligibility will be based solely on you and your household’s information.

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In easy terms, Verification is the Department of Education’s and your school’s version of an audit on your FAFSA.

If you are selected for Verification you will receive required Verification forms or worksheets from your school’s Financial Aid Office which you must complete and return along with any requested documentation before an official Financial Aid Award may be created for you.

More common pieces of documentation include your Federal Tax Return Transcript from the IRS, verification of Child Support payments, a valid government issued photo ID, documentation of any Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and a copy of a final High School transcript or diploma.

Always contact your school for the exact documentation needed.

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Financial Aid Package

Your school may refer to your Financial Aid Award as a Financial Aid Package or just Package.

Package may also refer to the act of creating your Financial Aid Award/Package.

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Disburse (Disbursement)

This is the when your Financial Aid Office or other agency (like a Private Loan lender or Scholarship donor) pays the Financial Aid allocated for any given term toward your tuition and other fees.

After Disbursement, if your Financial Aid fully covered your fees, your school may issue a refund of excess aid directly to you (or your parent(s)) to help cover your books and supplies, transportation or other living expenses for the term.

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Title IV Aid

This refers to many of the Federal Financial Aid programs that you may be familiar with as outlined in Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

If you should ever cancel or withdraw your enrollment or be dismissed from your school, your Financial Aid Office will be required to complete a Return to Title IV calculation which determines how much Financial Aid was “earned” (you are able to keep) and how much was “unearned” (must be returned to the Federal or State Government.

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Academic Year

The Academic Year refers to the amount of coursework you should complete and the time frame in which to complete it as determined by your school or your specific academic program.

Generally, a school or program’s Academic Year will encompass a period of between 9 and 12 months.

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Financial Need

The Department of Education and your school’s determination of how much you may benefit from certain types of Financial Aid.

Typically, schools will use your EFC (from your FAFSA) and any Merit-Based or Grant aid in conjunction with their Cost of Attendance (COA) to determine if you have Financial Need.


Financial Need = COA – (EFC + Merit/Grant Aid)

Your school’s COA is $40,000.  Your EFC is $5,000 and your Merit/Grant Aid is $20,000.

Your Financial Need would be $15,000.

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Merit-Based Aid

Merit-Based Aid is Financial Aid which you may be awarded on the basis of your academic performance either in High School or while you are currently enrolled in College.

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Need-Based Aid

Need-Based Aid is Financial Aid which you may be awarded on the basis of demonstrating Financial Need.

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Special Circumstance / Professional Judgement

The Special Circumstance, or Professional Judgement, process is a feature granted to schools by the U.S. Department of Education.

It gives your Financial Aid Office the ability to override certain things and make allowances for others when determining things like your Dependency Status, Cost of Attendance and general Financial Aid eligibility.

Any Special Circumstance process is going to call for documentation, often a lot, so you should always check with your Financial Aid Office to see exactly what they will want you to submit based on your specific situation.

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Loan Forgiveness, Discharge or Cancellation

Loan Forgiveness, Loan Discharge or Loan Cancellation are situations in which you may be released from your obligation to repay part or all of your Federal Student Loans.

Loan Forgiveness is generally eligible for teachers and certain public service employees though there are some situations where members of the U.S. armed forces, certain medical professions and social service workers may be eligible as well.

Discharge is often more circumstantial and loans may be discharged if you can show that you are totally and permanently disabled, if your school closes while you are enrolled, if your school falsely certified your eligibility, in rare cases of bankruptcy or upon your (the loan borrower) death.

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Deferment is a period of time when you are able to postpone the payments on your student loans.

During deferment, the interest on your Federal Subsidized Loans and Perkins Loans will not accrue.  However, Unsubsidized Loans will continue to accrue interest that may be capitalized (added onto the principal balance of your loan).

Common types of, and situations for, deferment are In-School Deferment (when you are enrolled at least half-time), during periods of unemployment or economic hardship and during periods of active duty military service.

To find if you are eligible for Loan Deferment, you should contact your loan servicer.

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Forbearance is a set period of time when your loan lender or servicer approves a reduction or postponement of your monthly payments when you are willing, but unable, to make your normal payments.

During forbearance, the interest on all of your loans will continue to accrue and will be capitalized (added onto the principal balance of your loan) when you exit your term of forbearance and continue your normal payments.

To find if you are eligible for Loan Forbearance, you should contact your loan servicer.

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Financial Services Partners

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