Student Life

A High School Senior’s Guide to Financial Aid

A student shares how, when and where you can apply for financial aid.

Student Contributor, Aleena Islam

December 11, 2020

A High School Senior’s Guide to Financial Aid
Get all of the details of applying for financial aid and scholarships.
As a high school senior applying to college and waiting for decisions, the question of how to pay for college is now at the forefront of my mind, and probably the mind of many high school seniors. Unfortunately, a college’s sticker price is very high, tens of thousands of dollars every year. Fortunately, however, there are many options out there for students of all ages to help alleviate this burden of paying for college!

Types of Financial Aid

There are many types of aid that are available to different groups of people. The most common types of financial aid are:

Federal/private loans

These are loans granted by the federal government or another institution that is usually set at a fixed interest rate until the loan is paid off.

Scholarships (need- or merit-based)

Scholarships are based on two things: need or merit. Need-based scholarships are determined by a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
Merit-based is awarded to students who show academic or athletic talent. Both types of scholarships are provided by colleges or outside sources.


A federal grant is money that does not need to be paid back. Many factors go into grants, like EFC, college major, etc.


This type of aid is when a student works part-time on campus to cover part of their college tuition.

Applying for Need-Based Aid

For anyone looking to get financial aid, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA. The FAFSA is a free application that opens on October 1st every year and is used by many agencies and most colleges to determine eligibility for loans, grants, work-study, etc. Check out The Ultimate Guide to the FAFSA for more information specifically on the FAFSA. Once you have completed the FAFSA, there might be other financial forms you may need to complete, depending on the colleges you’re applying to. Many of my colleges required me to fill out the College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS Profile) through College Board. The CSS Profile is not quite as well-known as the FAFSA but is still just as important. It goes more in-depth into your family’s financials and allows you to upload financial forms to colleges that require them. Both the FAFSA and CSS Profile will help you get need-based loans and aid from your colleges.

Applying for Merit-Based Aid

Sometimes, need-based aid may not yield as much aid as you were hoping for. This is when merit-based scholarships come in very handy! Merit scholarships are very easy to find and apply for, as many outside organizations offer scholarships. If you’re looking for very large scholarships, there are some popular ones like the Coca-Cola Scholarship, the Reagan Foundation Scholarship, the Burger-King Scholarship, as well as many more. Note that the 2020 deadline for Coca-Cola has passed, but there are many large scholarships still available out there! There are many small scholarships available, from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. No matter the sum, I encourage you to apply for all and any scholarships as any little bit can help! Check out to get matched to scholarships that you can apply for today!


So now that you know how and where to apply for both need and merit financial aid, the only question that remains is when to apply. Well, the answer is that it depends. The FAFSA opens in October and the federal deadline is June 30 of the following year. However, do not think that this means you can wait until June to do it. Each state has its own deadline to qualify for state loans and each specific college also has deadlines for when they should receive all financial aid documents, the FAFSA and CSS Profile included. Let’s use Harvard College as an example. If an applicant applies for early action, then Harvard requires all financial materials to be in by November 1st. If an applicant applies regular decision, then they should have their financial materials in by February 1st. Take a close look at the financial aid deadline for each of your schools as applying later could affect the amount of aid you receive. Some schools, like Wake Forest University, also have priority deadlines for those who wish to be considered for merit-based aid. Wake Forest’s regular decision deadline is in January, but those who wished to be considered for merit aid had to have submitted their application before December 1st. Check to see if the colleges on your list have a similar policy, or if they consider you automatically for merit aid upon applying. Now that you know more about how, when, and where to apply for financial aid, it’s time to get out there and earn some aid! Remember that right here at is a wonderful source to find and apply for scholarships!

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