Financial aid packages vary from college to college and depend on family circumstances, a student's abilities and talents, and how each financial aid officer interprets a student's needs. One thing is certain: the more you understand financial aid, the more likely you are to receive it.

Financial aid glossary

FAFSA-Free application for Federal Student Aid. You must fill out this form even if you do not expect to receive aid from a college. You can't get a federally backed student loan without this form.

CSS/Profile-College Scholarship Service Profile, a non-government FAFSA. Not all colleges require this form. Check with the schools you want to apply to for the proper forms (some colleges even require their own financial application).

EFC-Expected Family Contribution. The amount your family is expected to pay based on their specific circumstances and finances.

SAR-Student Aid Report. You will be sent this form after completing the FAFSA. Colleges use this form to determine your aid package.

Need-based-College grants and scholarships that are issued based on your academic, athletic or artistic talent. Ethnicity is sometimes considered.

Grants-Money from the government or college that does not have to be repaid.

Loan-Money from the government or private lender that does have to be repaid.

Scholarships-Do not have to be repaid. Can be institutional (from the college) or private (outside source).

Work Study-Need-based program of subsidized jobs through the college. Students usually work up to 20 hours per week.

SubsidizedInterest on a loan does not accrue while student is in school.

Non-subsidizedInterest on a loan does accrue while student is in school.

PELL Grants-Federal money for low-income students that does not have to be repaid.

Perkins Loan-A federally-backed need-based loan direct from a participating college. Interest does not accrue while student is in school.

Stafford Loan-Government sponsored loans to students. Subsidized Stafford Loans are need-based, non-subsidized are not. Either can be obtained from banks, savings and loans or other lenders.

PLUS Loans-Government sponsored loans to parents come at a higher interest rate than Stafford loans.

State Grants-Money from a state that is given to resident students who are attending in-state schools. Programs differ from state to state.