College Funding Strategies

Need-Based Financial Aid
A student’s financial need is determined by the following equation:

Cost of Attendance – (minus) Expected Family Contribution (EFC) = (equals) Financial Need

The Cost of Attendance is the total amount it will cost for a student to attend college during one academic year. It takes into account tuition and fees, room and board, books, supplies, transportation, miscellaneous expenses, etc. This figure is set by the college.

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is an amount determined by formulas established by Congress and the individual college. It indicates how much of a family’s financial resources should be available to help pay for school.

Federal Financial Aid Programs
The U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Program is the largest provider of student need-based aid in the nation. Students and parents demonstrate eligibility by completing the FAFSA, which can be used by U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Some colleges require supplemental forms to obtain information not included on the FAFSA, or they may ask you to complete the CSS Profile. It is important to find out which forms each college requires and to meet deadlines.Furthermore, some colleges now require applicants to fill out the FAFSA and/or the CSS Profile regardless of whether or not you are applying for financial aid.

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
Colleges use your FAFSA to determine your eligibility to receive federal grants, loans, and work-study programs. Submit your application as soon as possible after October 1; awards are made until funds are depleted.
FAFSA Federal Student Aid ID (FSAID)
An FSA ID gives you access to the Federal Student Aid’s online systems and serves as your legal signature. The parent and student each need to create a FSAID.
CSS Profile (College Scholarship Service)
The CSS Profile is an online application that collects information used by nearly 400 colleges and scholarship programs to award non-federal aid.
Use FAFSA4caster to get a free early estimate of your eligibility for federal student aid.

There are 3 types of federal aid: loans, grants, and work study. Loans are borrowed money for college or career school; you must repay your loans with interest. Grant money is financial aid that does not need to be repaid. Work study is a program through which you earn money to help pay for school.

The maximum annual loan amount depends on grade level and dependency status, and it applies to a combination of both subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Each year requires another round of financial aid applications.

Freshman-$5,500/year; Sophomores-$6,500/year; Juniors and Seniors-$7,500/year

Federal Direct Subsidized Loan
A need-based, low-interest loan program for undergraduate students who have financial need. The U.S. Department of Education generally pays interest while the student is in school at least half-time and during any authorized deferment periods.

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan
A non-need based, low-interest loan program for undergraduate, graduate, or professional students who attend school at least half-time. The borrower is responsible for all interest, which begins shortly after disbursement but can be added to the principal balance of the loan.

Federal Direct Plus Loan for Parents
A loan for parents of dependent undergraduate students, not based on financial need. Parents may borrow up to the cost of attendance at the school minus any financial aid; the amount a parent may borrow is subject to a credit check. These are conventional loans, with repayment beginning within 60 days. Parents typically have 10-25 years to repay the loan entirely and have the option to consolidate several PLUS loans. Parents may defer payment of the principal until their student is out of college.

Federal Pell Grant
A federal program which awards a specified amount each year to eligible students, usually at the undergraduate level. The amount of aid you can receive depends on your financial need, the cost of attendance at your school, and more. Grants do not need to be repaid, except under certain circumstances.

Federal Work Study
Students work on campus for a set number of hours each week, usually from 10-20 hours. The pay is at least minimum wage, and the money is either deducted from a student’s tuition bill or paid directly to the student for miscellaneous expenses.

State Financial Aid Programs
The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) administers a host of scholarship and funding programs for Illinois families. Its mission is to make college accessible and affordable for Illinois students. Information about ISAC programs including MAP, the Illinois National Guard Grant, and the Illinois Veteran Grant can be found on their ISAC student portal.

Merit-Based Financial Aid/Scholarships
Merit-based aid is determined by a student’s academic merit, special talents, occupational goals, service record, or other specific attributes. Look for these opportunities on the Admissions/Financial Aid webpage of specific schools. It is recommended to apply early for these scholarships, which often have a deadline that is before the general admissions deadline.

In addition, check the scholarship list on Naviance or the Scholarships page on the CCRC website. Or, conduct your own scholarship research at sites such as,,,,, and

Co-op Programs
Co-operative education programs at universities have students spend part of their time in the classroom and part of their time doing paid work related to their field of study. The earnings from participating in a co-op program can play an important role in offsetting the cost of education. In addition, this work experience can be valuable in helping graduates find jobs.

Net-Price Calculator
Net Price is the difference between the total cost of attendance and the scholarships and grants you receive. The Net Price Calculator is a tool to help you estimate the financial aid you might receive and the net price you might pay. After you’ve entered your information, you will see an amount that is the average for students with similar profiles. Keep in mind, all applicants are evaluated on an individual basis, so your eligibility may be different from the amount shown. Net price calculators are available on a college’s website.

If you use a net-price calculator, be sure to learn how the net price is calculated at a particular college. You do not want to inadvertently compare net prices among schools that do not consider the same factors or do not use data from the same year. Net price calculators should only subtract grants and merit-based financial aid/scholarships from the college’s sticker price to arrive at a net price.

College Financial Award Letters
There is no standard form that colleges use to present financial information to students and their families. It’s important to know that these letters show numbers for the first year only and that the money may not flow throughout the years it will take to complete a degree.

In Summary
Keep in mind that borrowing for your education is an investment in your future, yet it’s important to understand the ramifications of debt. Students typically have 10-25 years to repay federal loans entirely.

Here are some resources for learning more about financing your education:

College Affordability and Transparency Center
Information about how much it costs students to attend different colleges
“The Smart Student Guide to Financial Aid”
Go College
“The Student’s Reference to Finding Money and Getting the Most Out of College Education.”