Financial aid doesn’t just appear out of thin air, it’s carefully crafted by supportive organizations, including the federal government, and doled out through appropriate channels. No matter the source, financial aid is geared toward students needing financial assistance in their quest to further their education.

There are a wide variety of programs, at the state and federal levels, to help fund programs in all post-secondary institutions. Financial aid encompasses grants, scholarships, low-interest loans, or work-study arrangements.

The Four Primary Sources of Financial Aid

The U.S. Federal Government

Not surprisingly, the federal government is the largest sponsor of education in the country. According to the most recent statistics, they provide $120 billion every year in a variety of formats to help 13 million Americans fund their schooling.

Students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for consideration. The Pell Grant is a typical example of federal aid, awarded to undergraduate students in bachelor programs and professional schools.

State of Residence

For students who do not qualify for financial aid through the federal government, they can apply for aid from their local state. The U.S. Department of Education has helpfully collected the appropriate student-aid contacts for all states and territories in one location.

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Each state will have different requirements; students are urged to do their own investigation to find out what's available in their state of residence.

Post-Secondary Institution

Beyond all federal and state financial aid, some schools also have programs funded from their own coffers. These aid programs are highly specialized, varying between schools and even between departments. Contact your school and department of study to find out more about what grants or scholarships they may offer.

Nonprofit or Other Private Organizations

Many nonprofit and private organizations provide funding to students in need. These scholarships are typically highly specialized as well, funded by religious organizations, sports organizations, and nonprofits supporting minorities, people with disabilities, and so on. Some examples of a privately funded scholarship are the Google Lime Scholarship for students with disabilities or the scholarship offered by the Organization for Autism Research.

Where to Find Financial Aid

As the largest distributor of financial aid in America, the federal government is a perfect place to start looking for financial assistance. Filling out the FAFSA should always be the first step a student takes on the quest to fund their education.