What are the specific types of financial aid?

There are four major types of financial aid:

  • Scholarships and grants can be need-based or merit-based.
  • Merit awards can be conditional on financial need or not.
  • Loans for students and parents can be need-based or non-need-based. Most financial aid packages involve some loans.
  • Student employment programs provide work opportunities. Work-study jobs may be on campus or in nearby communities. You are paid an hourly wage set by the school. For more information, consult a financial aid counselor at the college you plan to attend.

Arizona State University student Andrew Rigazio had good grades in high school, but he wishes now that he'd been more involved in extracurricular activities. He says he thinks that would have boosted his chances of receiving scholarships. Ultimately, he applied for almost every community scholarship he was eligible for -- 21 in all -- and didn't receive any.

"When it comes to financial aid, apply early and often," he recommends. "The most work you will usually have to do is get a letter of recommendation or write a short essay. But that work could lead to a one, two or even three thousand dollar scholarship. The reward that you could obtain far outweighs the amount of work necessary. And even if you strike out like I did, you gain a lot of experience in resume building and essay writing and other important skills you may have not obtained another way."