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Understanding 5 types of student financial aid (and how to apply)

When talking about higher education, cost is always one of the first topics to come up. From private colleges to public universities, higher education can be expensive. Fortunately, there are several types of student financial aid options available to help make college more affordable and accessible to anyone looking to further their education.

Villa’s Office of Financial Aid can help guide you through this process and get you one step closer to your educational goals.

Federal Student Aid

Federal student aid is one of the most common ways to pay for higher education. These funds can be broken down into three main categories: grants, loans, and work studies. Students may be eligible for all three types of federal aid depending on their family’s financial needs.


Federal grants, like the Pell Grant or Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant, are sums of money provided to eligible students that do not have to be paid back. Typically, students that receive federal grants must demonstrate a significant financial need and plan to attend a four-year higher education institution, community college, or career school.


Federal student loans are funds provided by the federal government that must be repaid with interest. The terms, conditions, and interest rates are all set according to the law and have a wide range of repayment options. There are four types of federal student loans, with one option available for need-based students.

Work Study

Students who are eligible for work study earn these funds through part-time work, typically conducted at their higher education campus. These won’t be assigned to students until they begin attending classes, and usually have to be assigned by the campus’ financial aid office.

State Financial Aid

State student aid depends on where you live. In New York State, in-state residents can apply for the Tuition Assistance Program and Enhanced Tuition, which helps pay for tuition costs at approved institutions. These funds, like grants, do not have to be repaid.

Private Loans

Private loans are provided to students through private financial institutions, including banks, credit unions, and affiliated lender organizations. The terms, conditions, and interest rates are all set by the lending institution and are usually more expensive than federal loans. Typically those who are not eligible for federal student aid assistance take out private loans in addition to other kinds of financial aid.

College/University Funds

Most higher education institutions offer scholarships or grants to accepted students. Generally, these are merit-based awards, meaning that students who meet certain academic or athletic requirements are eligible. Villa Maria College offers several of these financial aid options to newly accepted and transfer students.

Other Scholarships and Grants

From high schools to local foundations or national organizations, there are tons of scholarship and grant opportunities available to students online. We recommend reviewing a list of proven online resources to guide you in your search to avoid falling victim to any aid or scholarship scams. High school students preparing for college can speak with school guidance counselors to see what options are available in their community.

How and When to Apply for Financial Aid

If you are planning to apply for any kind of financial aid, you and your family will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Many colleges and universities base their own scholarships and grants on FAFSA applications, so it’s important that this form is submitted. Applications open annually on October 1 and close on June 30. It’s ideal to complete this as soon as you can once the application period begins, as some funds are on a first-come, first-serve basis or come from limited programs and grants. The FAFSA must be completed each year while you are attending college.

When to Apply for Scholarships

Junior year is a good time to start looking into scholarship opportunities, especially since senior year gets busy with college applications and other financial aid planning. Most scholarship applications for the following school year start in late summer, with deadlines ranging between October and December. January through May is considered the “prime time” for scholarship applications, especially during senior year. While there are scholarships available in late spring to early summer, these tend to be highly competitive as applicants try to secure funds before their school year kicks off.