Merit vs. Need-Based Financial Aid
Paying for college can be confusing and complex, but it doesn't have to be.
At most schools, financial aid comes into two categories, merit-based aid and need-based aid. Private schools use a combination of merit-based and need-based financial aid to make cost comparable to public schools, which offer few scholarships.
Merit-based aid includes athletic and academic scholarships, which are gifts you don't have to pay back.
You will typically learn about these scholarships at the time of your admission to a school or when you're being recruited by a coach.
Many schools also offer additional merit scholarships through competitive programs and you typically need to apply early action to compete for these financial aid awards.
To determine if you qualify for need-based financial aid you have to first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines whether you're eligbile to receive any federal or state grants.
These are gifts that come from organizations like churches, foundations and community groups. Some private schools will stack outside scholarships on top of any university awards you receive, but be sure to ask.