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 - Scholarships that are issued based on your academic, athletic or artistic talent. Ethnicity is sometimes considered. Grants Money - Funds from the government or college that does not have to be repaid. Loan Money - Funds from the government or private lender that does have to be repaid. Scholarships - Funds which 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. Subsidized Interest on a loan - Interest that does not accrue while student is in school. Non-subsidized Interest on a loan - Interest that 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.