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Paying for College and Financial Aid

Higher education can be expensive. Planning ahead for those costs can help to alleviate stress and position you and your family to receive the financial assistance for which you may qualify.

To begin, you can calculate your family’s Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). EFC is the amount of money the government determines your family can pay for college. It is calculated according to a formula established by law. It considers your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security).

You can also explore the Cost of Attendance (COA) at the institutions in which you are interested. COA is the estimated amount it will cost a student to go to school. It includes such expenses as housing, transportation, books, and other school- and living-related expenses.

Families can also check out the net price calculator. The net price calculators are available on a college or university’s website and allow prospective students to enter information about themselves to find out what students like them paid to attend the institution in the previous year, after taking grants and scholarship aid into account.

Additionally, you can explore options for saving for college.

Financial Aid

Financial aid is money provided by the federal government, the state, and colleges/institutions to students to assist in covering the costs of attending college and career schools.

Institutions determine a student’s financial need by subtracting their family’s Estimated Family Contribution from the cost of attendance. That need is used to determine the aid package an institution awards to the student.

Cost of Attendance (COA) – Estimated Family Contribution = Financial Need

While COA varies from school to school, your EFC does not change based on the school you attend.

Applying for Financial Aid:

To apply for financial aid, you will need to supply information about your family’s income and assets, as well as other data about you. Be aware that you will be asked to supply documentation as part of your application. That documentation could include:

Federal Financial Aid

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is used by the federal government, the Maryland state government, and the majority of colleges to determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid. Many private scholarship programs also require the FAFSA.

The FAFSA requires parents and students to report income from the “prior-prior” year for which financial aid is being requested. For example, if your child is in 12th grade, the FAFSA requires you to provide your income (tax returns) from when your child was in 10th grade.

The FAFSA Simplification Act was passed in November 2022 and will take effect for the 2023-2024 school year. Key changes include:

Additional information about changes to the FAFSA can be found in this webinar.

The FAFSA will become available in late December. To get a head start on understanding how to complete the FAFSA, visit this webpage, providing information and tips on how to complete the FAFSA. (Note: FAFSA typically opens October 1 but because of the new FAFSA form, a date has not been determined for when it will become available.)

Families can use the Federal Student Aid Estimator to find out how much federal student aid their child might receive.

Additional information about federal financial aid can be found at

Maryland Financial Aid

The Maryland State Financial Aid Application (MSFAA) is available to applicants who are ineligible to receive federal aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students qualify for state aid and institutional aid using the MSFAA.

Use this chart to determine whether you should apply for financial aid using the FAFSA or the MSFAA:

Complete the FAFSA if you are:

  • U.S. Citizen
  • Permanent Resident
  • Eligible non-citizen
  • T Visa holder

Complete the MSFAA if you are:

CSS Profile

The CSS Profile is an online application used by most colleges and scholarship programs to award non-federal institutional aid. A list of participating schools is available online. Some schools may also require divorced or separated parents to complete separate CSS applications.

Most students complete the application in their senior year of high school starting on October 1. Schools may have different deadlines – be sure to check with each school you are applying to.

Understanding Financial Aid Packages and Types of Aid

Students who submit the FAFSA will subsequently receive a financial aid offer, outlining what financial aid they can receive at a particular college or career school. The offer includes the types and amounts of financial aid available from federal, state, private, and school sources. This combination of aid is known as the financial aid package.


Loans are money that students borrow and must pay back to the agency from which it was borrowed. Students can receive loans from the federal government, the state government, their school, or private agencies.

  • The federal government offers direct subsidized loans (also referred to as Stafford Loans) to students showing financial need. Subsidized loans do not incur interest while you are a student. Direct unsubsidized loans are offered to students regardless of financial need. Unsubsidized loans accrue interest during the duration of the loan.
  • The federal government offers PLUS loans for parents and graduate students.
  • Private sources and banks can provide loans for students


Grants provide funding that you don’t have to pay back. These offers are based on financial need and merit. Grants can be awarded from the federal government, state government, or directly from the institution.


Scholarships provide funding that you don’t have to pay back. These offers are based on academic achievement, athletic merit, talent or a particular area of study. Scholarships are awarded through private employers, companies, nonprofits, community organizations, directly from colleges and career schools.

  • Maryland offers scholarships through the Maryland Higher Education Commission such as Teacher Fellows Scholarship or Delegate or Senatorial Scholarship.
  • Institutions offer scholarships for athletics, academic merit, leadership and more.
  • HCPSS’ Office of School Counseling maintains an up-to-date list of local, community, and private scholarships.
  • Check out Naviance for an up-to-date searchable database of scholarships and grants.

Work Study

Work study is a form of financial aid that allows students to earn money through full-time or part-time employment at their college/institution. Students who participate in work-study are paid at least minimum wage.

Families reviewing financial aid packages should keep in mind that:

This article provides additional information to keep in mind while evaluating financial aid packages.

Additional Financial Aid Resources This is a federally maintained website that houses all information related to financial aid. Watch videos, learn about loans, scholarships, grants, and the financial aid process. Families also complete the FAFSA from this website.

Maryland Higher Education Commission: The Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA) at the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) provides a number of state grants, scholarships, and loan assistance repayment programs for eligible Maryland residents. Students must create an MDCAPS account with MHEC to qualify for all state grants. Information on financial aid for college and tips on how to help ease the burden of college expenses.

Coalition for College Access: Completing the FAFSA Video: Feeling overwhelmed about applying for financial aid? Watch the recording of this event, where admissions and financial aid officers from Coalition schools shared information and answered questions about completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Platica con expertos: Completando la FAFSA: ¿Te sientes abrumado por solicitar ayuda financiera? En este evento, los oficiales de admisiones y ayuda financiera de las escuelas de Coalition for College te guiarán a través de cómo prepararte para presentar la FAFSA para estudiantes.