Financial Aid FAQ

Financial aid is money from federal, state, and private sources used to pay college costs (tuition, required fees, room, meals, books, etc.). You should never have to pay for scholarships or scholarship searches.

  • Merit based: Financial aid based on special talents, achievements, or skills of a student. Examples - academic, drama, music, athletic ability, etc.
  • Need-based: Financial aid based on the student’s financial need for assistance. Often, the FAFSA results determine eligibility for need-based financial aid.
  • Special circumstance: Financial aid not based on merit or need. Examples - based on state residence, military service, unique interests, disability status, etc.
  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – Free form from U.S. Dept of Ed that is necessary to determine your eligibility for federal and state financial aid.
  • Check with your future college’s financial aid office for their own student aid funds. Most have deadlines, so apply early!
  • College Board CSS Profile – Online application from College Board that is used by almost 400 institutions and scholarship programs to award financial aid from sources outside the federal government. Check with your future college to see if they require this application. How to Complete the CSS Profile
  • High School Counselor’s Office – your high school counselor is a good resource for information about other scholarships and aid
  • Businesses, Civic and Church groups in your area.
  • Be sure to complete all required forms by deadlines.
  • Complete all questions accurately; estimate if necessary to meet early deadlines.
  • Don't wait until you are admitted to college to file the FAFSA.
  • Keep a copy of all documents for your records.

You must meet the basic requirements to qualify. Some people and situations will have additional requirements.

  • Be a legal North Carolina resident for tuition purposes (NC Residency Determination Service)
  • Attend an eligible institution in North Carolina
  • Fill out applications specific to North Carolina (while most NC programs require only the FAFSA as the application, state forgivable loans have their own separate applications).

A financial aid package represents the best efforts of the college or university financial aid office to meet a student's demonstrated need or to offer other suggestions for available aid. Some colleges are able to meet full demonstrated need, but some cannot. Colleges communicate aid options to the student by an “award notice” that lists programs of aid and amounts available. Financial aid packages generally include a combination of gift aid and self-help aid. The proportion of gift and self-help will vary by college or university and sometimes by other factors as well. The package may be adjusted if/when other resources are awarded to the student.

Significant change in your family can lead to changes in financial aid. Let the college financial aid office know about changes such as:

  • Unemployment of a parent
  • Death in the family
  • Change in parents' marital status
  • Major non-discretionary expenses such as medical bills

Be prepared to provide documentation of any change. Adjustments to aid awards - especially need-based awards - are not made based on "negotiations" but on changed circumstances and new information.

Ask yourself these questions in evaluating financial aid offers:

  • With the aid offered to me, can I afford to attend my first-choice college or university? Remember, the goal of aid is to provide access and choice, not to lure you to a college you don't really want to attend.
  • Is there a commitment from the financial aid office to continue the aid after the first year of college? Under what terms and conditions? What are my responsibilities in securing continuation (application deadlines, grade point average, etc.)?
  • Is the amount of the loan and/or work reasonable? How many hours of weekly work does the award imply?
  • Can I afford the monthly payments on a loan once I have graduated? Use our Financial Aid Calculators to estimate your monthly payments.
  • Are there other options available to me at my first-choice college or university? If the aid offer is not sufficient to enable you to attend your first choice, ask the aid office at that college or university if they can suggest other options for financing your education.
  • Payment Plans - some colleges offer a payment plan to make paying your portion of the expenses easier. Contact your college or university to find out if they have such a plan.
  • 529 Plans - North Carolina's National College Savings Program - It's important to save and plan ahead when possible.
  • Tax Savings - Use the IRS Interactive Tax Assistant to see if you are eligible to claim an education credit.
  • Off-campus employment - be sure to keep the times and number of hours limited in a way that will not hinder academic work.
  • Cooperative education programs - alternates terms of college and work to help pay for educational expenses and gain career experience.