Financial Aid: Lots of Options

Financial aid is any type of assistance used to pay college costs that is based on financial need.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) programs are the largest source of student aid in America. These programs provide more than $150 billion a year in grants, loans, and work-study assistance. Learn more about FSA and how to apply for aid.

The Higher Educational Aids Board is Wisconsin’s agency that administers student financial aid. Their site contains info about financial aid along with a FAQ section.

Here you’ll find the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is the form to fill out if you’re looking to receive financial aid. The first step in the process is to apply for a PIN.

EdVest is one way to save money for qualified expenses at two-and four-year colleges, and at technical, vocational and graduate schools.

The “Paying for College” section of this site contains easy-to-understand information about financial aid, and about costs for the UW System campuses. UW HELP

Get free, on-site, professional help filling out the FAFSA and answering your questions about financial aid at a location near you! College Goal Wisconsin

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators offers a range of resources to help students, parents, and counselors navigate the college aid process.

There are three main types of financial aid:

Grants and Scholarships

Also called gift aid, grants don’t have to be repaid and you don’t need to work to earn them. Grant aid comes from federal and state governments and from individual colleges. Scholarships are usually awarded based on merit. One place to search for scholarships is FastWeb.


Student employment and work-study aid helps students pay for education costs such as books, supplies, and personal expenses. Work-study is a federal program which provides students with part-time employment to help meet their financial needs and gives them work experience while serving their campuses and surrounding communities.


A lot of financial aid comes in the form of loans to students or parents, aid that must be repaid. Most loans that are awarded based on financial need are low-interest loans sponsored by the federal government. These loans are subsidized by the government so no interest accrues until you begin repayment after you graduate.

More About Loans

There are many different types of loans, both for students and for parents to take on behalf of their child. Read on for the basics.

Parent Loans

Federal PLUS loans

The PLUS Loan program is the largest source of parent loans. Parents can borrow up to the full cost of attendance minus any aid received, and repayment starts 60 days after money is paid to college.

Private parent loans

A number of lenders and other financial institutions offer private education loans for parents. These loans usually carry a higher interest rate than PLUS Loans.

College-sponsored loans

A small number of colleges offer their own parent loans, usually at a better rate than PLUS. Check each college’s aid materials to see if such loans are available.

Federal Student Loans

Perkins Loans

Perkins Loans are need-based loans and are awarded by the financial aid office to students with the highest need. The interest rate is very low and you don’t make any loan payments while in school.

Subsidized Stafford or Direct Loans

Subsidized Stafford Loans are need-based loans with low interest rates. The federal government pays the yearly interest while you’re in school. This is why they’re called “subsidized” loans.

Unsubsidized Stafford or Direct Loans

Unsubsidized Stafford Loans aren’t based on financial need and can be used to help pay the family share of costs. You’re responsible for paying interest on the loan while in school. You may choose to capitalize the interest. The advantage of doing this is that no interest payments are required. The disadvantage is that the interest is added to the loan, meaning that you will repay more money to the lender.

Grad PLUS Loans

This is a student loan for graduate students sponsored by the federal government that is unrelated to need. Generally, students can borrow Grad PLUS loans up to the total cost of education, minus any aid received. The advantage of this loan is that it allows for greater borrowing capacity. However, we recommend that students consider lower-interest loans, such as the Subsidized Stafford or Unsubsidized loans prior to taking out a Grad PLUS loan.

Other Student Loan Options

Private student loans

A number of lenders and other financial institutions offer private education loans to students. These loans are not subsidized and usually carry a higher interest rate than the federal need-based loans. The College Board private loan program is an example of a private education loan for students.

College-sponsored loans

Some colleges have their own loan funds. Interest rates may be lower than federal student loans. Read the college’s financial aid information.

Other loans

Besides setting up scholarships, some private organizations and foundations have loan programs as well. Borrowing terms may be quite favorable. You can use Scholarship Search to find these.