Financial aid

Paying for college – how financial aid works and how to apply for it

2024-25 FAFSA Walkthrough – Student section

2024-25 FAFSA Walkthrough – Parent section

How financial aid works:

Infographic describing the process of awarding financial aid from determining cost of attendance, to how much a student can pay, to awarding aid, to paying the bill.

Financial aid is money that helps students and their families pay for a college education. Financial aid can come from the federal government, state government, and colleges themselves. The four categories of financial aid are GRANTS, SCHOLARSHIPS, WORK STUDY, and LOANS:

GRANTS provide free money for college that you do not have to repay. They typically come from the federal or state government or your college/university. Grants are awarded to students based on their financial need. SCHOLARSHIPS* also provide money that you do not have to repay. Scholarships are typically awarded based on a student’s achievements/abilities or personal characteristics rather than just their financial need.
WORK STUDY is an opportunity for students to work part-time on-campus or at approved off-campus jobs to help pay for college. Work Study is only awarded to students with financial need, and the money must be earned by working. LOANS must be paid back, with interest. Subsidized loans do not add interest until you graduate, which makes them the best type of loan. Think carefully before accepting loans, but remember they are not all bad.
*Scholarships can be offered by a college, or you can apply for them from outside organizations and use them at whatever college you attend. We will help you apply for both in our Senior Workshops.

How much Financial Aid will you get?

Financial aid comes from individual colleges that you are accepted to. Each college will calculate how much money you need (called your “financial need” or “demonstrated need”) based on information you provide in your FAFSA. Starting with the 2024-25 academic year, the result of the FAFSA will be the Student Aid Index (SAI), which is an indicator of how much your family can contribute to your college costs.

Each college will take their total cost of attendance and subtract your SAI to determine your “financial need.” This is how much aid they “need” (or will try) to award you.

Your SAI is the same for each college, but your “need” will be different for each. Colleges will offer you financial aid to cover some or, hopefully, all of your need.

Applying for Financial Aid

UW STEMsub will have a workshop dedicated to your financial aid application, and you should always ask questions about your own personal situation or concerns.

  • In order to qualify for any type of financial aid, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your FAFSA determines your Student Aid Index (SAI), or the amount that the government thinks your family can contribute for college costs.
  • Your SAI is based on your family’s income, savings, and investments, and the number of family members and number in college.
  • Each college uses your SAI to determine how much, and which types of, financial aid to offer you.

The FAFSA opens on October 1st every year except 2023, when it opened in December! You should wait for the UW STEMsub workshop to complete your FAFSA. You must apply again every year that you want to be considered for financial aid.