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Financial Aid Frequently Asked Questions

What is Financial Aid?

Financial aid is money that helps pay for college. Merit-based aid is money given to students with special talents, skills, or abilities, while need-based aid is available to those students who demonstrate financial need. Families should also consider the several self-help plans administered through the College Savings Plan of Maryland to begin saving for college.

What Kinds of Financial Aid are Available?

Grants and scholarships are gifts that do not have to be paid back. Grants are usually given because the student has financial need, while scholarships are usually given to recognize the student's academic achievement, athletic ability or other talent. Federal grants include the Pell Grant, the Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG) and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant. Loans must be repaid, usually with interest, after the student graduates or stops going to school. Employment, usually called work-study, allows the student to work and earn money to help pay for school. These jobs are usually on-campus.

Who Should Apply for Need-Based Financial Aid?

All students should apply for need-based financial aid. Many families mistakenly think they may not qualify for this type of aid based on their income and assets. However, if students choose not to apply for need-based financial aid, they may be closing the door on opportunities that could help pay for college. There are other sources of financial assistance available regardless of need, but most require that the student file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) first.

How Does A Student Apply For Need-Based Financial Aid?

The FAFSA is the form used to apply for need-based financial aid. The student must complete the FAFSA to apply for Maryland's need-based grants, as well as for federal financial aid and other aid from colleges. The FAFSA should be submitted no later than March 1 to be considered for need-based aid from the State of Maryland, and students must apply every year. Check out the College Aid Calculator, a tool to help you plan and estimate your share of college costs.

The FAFSA4caster is a new Web tool designed to assist high school juniors and their families to plan for education beyond high school.  Students can receive an estimated Expected Family Contribution (EFC) by entering their information into FAFSA4caster, a simplified version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  FAFSA4caster also provides guidance on next steps for applying for admission, applying for federal student aid, and paying for education beyond high school. A Spanish version is available. 

The US Department of Education supplies and processes the FAFSA. The processed information is then sent to the Office of Student Financial Assistance and to all the colleges listed on the form. Many colleges may require that the student complete one or more supplemental application forms, such as the CSS Profile, to apply for institutional financial aid. Ask the colleges for information about any additional applications they may require.

There are two types of FAFSA’s. If the student is applying for financial aid for the first time (or did not apply for the past year), he must complete the regular FAFSA. The form has many questions that the student and family must answer. Students can apply by filling out a paper copy of the FAFSA and mailing it in the envelope that comes with the form. A student may also apply electronically from a home computer or from a computer at the high school or college and submit the application online at Be sure to mail appropriate signature pages or apply for a Personal Identifcation Number (PIN) in order to “sign” the electronic application.

Additional financial aid information from the U.S. Department of Education can be found at the Office of Federal Student Aid. Publications, fact sheets, online tools, and other resources are provided in English, Spanish and accessible versions.

Financial Aid From the State of Maryland: Each year, the State of Maryland awards more than $100 million in need-based grants, scholarships, and loan repayment programs to over 65,000 Maryland residents. Maryland students use this aid at community colleges, private colleges and universities, private career schools, and the state's 13 public four-year campuses. Students can download applications for Maryland State Scholarships and Assistance Programs, including the Guaranteed Assistance Grant and the Educational Assistance Grant, or conduct a personalized Search for Maryland scholarships.