Financial Aid

It should come as no surprise that college is expensive. Nonetheless, there are several financial aid programs aimed at making college affordable for all families. Simply put, financial aid is money available to help you and/or your parents to pay for college. To be sure, students and parents are always considered to be the primary source of funds and are expected to contribute a certain amount of money.

Below you will find a general overview of college financial aid. For more specific information please see the links at the bottom of the page.          


There are three main forms of financial aid:

1. Grants/Scholarships: Both grants and scholarships, commonly referred to as “gift aid,” provide money that does not need to be paid back. These awards are usually need-based or merit-based. A common prerequisite to receive these awards is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

2. Loans: Loans provide you with money for college but this is money that has to be paid back with interest. The most common loans for students are Stafford and Perkins loans. These loans both carry interest rates that are lower than a loan from a bank. Both also offer in-school deferment and a grace period. The most common loan for parents is the PLUS loan.

3. Work-study: A federally funded program that allows students to earn financial funding through part-time work.


Determining Financial Need

A student’s financial need is the difference between the standard Cost of Attendance (COA) of a college/university and theeExpected Family Contribution (EFC). The COA usually varies from school to school, but the EFC stays the same.

COA – EFC = Financial Need


The COA at the University of Washington-Seattle for the 2010-2011 academic school year for a resident student not living with his/her parents was $19,138.

Tuition & Fees——————$8,701
Room & Board——————$9,399
Personal Expenses————–$2,265

Total cost————————$22,042 (COA)

If a student’s EFC was $5,000 then their financial need would be $17,042.

COA – EFC = Financial Need

$22,042- $5,000 = $17,042


In sum, this example shows that the cost of attending the UW-Seattle is $22,042 per year. The FAFSA and/or the school has determined that your family needs to contribute $5,000 toward these college costs. This leaves the student with $17,042 in financial need.

In order to help cover the remaining $17,042 the student would be looking for a combination of scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study.


The $5,000 EFC in the previous example is enough to concern any student or parent about the cost of college. Add to that the $14,138 in financial need and you are likely to experience “sticker shock,” a general feeling that college costs are way too high and out of reach. Before you convince yourself of this phenomenon, consider the following: there is a difference, a significant one in many cases, between the “sticker price” of college (i.e. the COA) and the net price (i.e. what the average student actually pays for college).

In keeping with the above example the “sticker price” for the UW-Seattle would be $22,042. Now let’s factor in financial aid:

Grant 1—————$3,000
Scholarship 1——–$1,500
Scholarship 2——–$2,000
Work Study———-$3,000


Sticker price – financial aid = net price

$22,042 – $14,000 = $8,042

In this example, the student would still need to come up with $8,042. Notice, however, that this is significantly less than the $22,042 listed as the COA. To be sure, this example does include a $4,500 loan that has to be repaid. Also, please note that this is an example of a financial aid package. Every student will be offered a different financial aid package based on their family’s financial profile, the school they are attending, and their academic standing. Some might include more loans, others might not include work study, and some might include more grants.

Additional Information

As you can see, financial aid can be a complex and dynamic process. I’ve sought to give you a general overview, but undoubtedly you have some additional questions. Please refer to the links below for additional information. As always, you are more than welcome to make an appointment with our Career Specialist or one of the counselors to further discuss this topic.