Scholarships & Financial Aid 101

What should you do first?

    1. Apply for the FAFSA: All students must have their parents complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form in order to apply for federal financial aid.  The FAFSA form can be found at www.fafsa.ed.govThe FAFSA application opens on Oct. 1 for the next year’s fall semester.  See “Need Based Financial Aid”, below, for more information. 
    2. Complete CSS Profile, if required: Some colleges (mostly private colleges) require parents to fill out the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile form.  Check with the college’s financial aid website to determine if they require this.  It can be accessed at
    3. To get more information about financial aid, you should plan to attend a District Financial Aid Night typically held in the fall (early November) each year.  Check the HCPS website for dates.
    4. To get a good overview of how to pay for college, go to websites and, and click on the tab “Pay for College”.  These websites have excellent information on financial aid, estimating college costs, how to access scholarships and grants, and more!  This worksheet will also give you good ideas of how to proceed.
    5. Look on the college financial aid/scholarship websites of the schools where you are applying.   You can use their “Net Price Calculator” to determine the cost to your family (your Expected Family Contribution) for you to attend each college.  You can also look up the deadline that the college sets for you to send in your FAFSA form.

Now that you applied to college, how are you going to pay for it?

  1. Colleges have financial aid departments that are set up to help students/parents figure out how to pay the costs of attendance.  After you turn in your application, then you will send in your completed FAFSA form (and in the case of private colleges, the CSS Profile Form).  This will help the college financial aid department assess your family’s financial needs.  Then they put together a financial aid package to help you pay for their college.  Each college will offer a different combination of financial aid methods, so each package must be carefully reviewed so that you can compare them.
  2. Financial Aid priority deadlines:  Colleges have priority deadlines for submitting your FAFSA (and CSS Profile, if required) so that you will be most likely to receive the limited grant, work study, and loan awards administered by the college. Be sure to check each university’s aid deadline and submit all required paperwork before hand.
  3. Many private universities have financial aid deadlines that may differ from their application deadlines.  Please check with each college’s financial aid/scholarship website for specific deadlines.  If you do not meet the deadline established by the school and you were eligible to receive funds, you may not receive them for the school year.
  4. Most students get some form of financial aid, and the vast majority of that aid comes from need-based state and federal sources (e.g., Florida Bright Futures, Florida Student Assistance Grants, Florida Resident Access Grants, Pell grants, federal work-study program money, etc.). Only a small number of students (around 8 to 9%) receive partial funding through private scholarships.
  5. If your income is low, the college will take that into account in putting together your financial aid package.  If you qualify for free/reduced lunch, it is likely that you will qualify for a Pell Grant and other need-based grants.  The amount of a Pell Grant is based on family income.  When you complete the FAFSA, it will generate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  If your EFC is approximately $5000 or lower, you will most likely be eligible for a Pell Grant.  Last year, 59% of 12th graders who completed a FAFSA in Florida were eligible for a Pell Grant, worth up to $6,195/year in financial assistance that doesn’t have to be repaid (according to the Florida College Access Network).
  6. According to Florida public university website, the total cost of a Florida public university averages about $20,000 for students who live on campus, and about $16,000 for those who live with parents/relative.  The breakdown is as follows:  tuition averages between $5,500 and $6,500, room and board averages $9,350, books/supplies averages $1,100, and other costs are approximately $4,100 for two semesters.

What kinds of financial aid options are there?

Need-based Financial Aid:

To qualify for this, complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at the website www.fafsa.ed.govSee our FAFSA Resources page for additional information, links, and helpful resources.

Some private colleges require that you fill out an additional form, the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE.  Colleges use these forms to figure out the difference between the amount of your FAFSA determined Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and your “financial need” is when compared to the cost of attendance (COA).

  • Need-based aid comes in the form of grants (which don’t have to be paid back), federal work-study program money (for which the student qualifies to obtain a job on-campus or near campus), and subsidized loans.
  • Need simply means that your family can’t afford to pay the full cost of a particular college.  The amount you need depends on the particular costs of each individual college, so your family may qualify for need-based financial aid at one college and not at another.  The formula for need is the difference between your EFC and the cost of attending a particular college.  Financial aid is designed to meet your need, not your EFC.
  • Look at each college’s financial aid website for more information about what you can expect to pay at each college.  The websites contain a College Net Price Calculator that gives an estimate of what the costs would be for your family at each college.
  • A little-known fact is that students who get admitted to some elite colleges pay no tuition at all, which makes the cost of attendance even lower than some in-state public colleges.  For example, students who are accepted at Harvard whose families make under $65,000/year have zero Expected Family Contribution.  Families whose incomes go up to $200,000/year can still qualify for some types of financial aid at these private universities.

Non-need Based Financial Aid:

Aid awarded on some basis other than need or merit, such as unsubsidized loans and Parent PLUS loans.

Merit-based Financial Aid:

Aid awarded on the basis of academic, character, or talent.  Examples include:  Bright Futures Scholarships, athletic scholarships, talent or interest-based scholarships, community and private scholarships.  Be very vigilant about scholarship scams, and NEVER give out credit card or bank account information.  Legitimate scholarships will NOT require fees, nor do they require appointments with anyone that you have not set up.  Legitimate scholarship information can be accessed in the following ways:

  • Hillsborough County Public Schools put out a monthly Scholarship Matrix, which is an excellent listing of scholarships available to students (mostly seniors).
  • Visit the website for the Hillsborough Education Foundation beginning in November, to apply for one of the hundreds of scholarships they give out to students in Hillsborough County.  The scholarships range from $500 to $22,000 and many have a target recipient group.  For example, there are scholarships for golfers, students who are planning to become teachers, students who participate in their school’s band, students who studied 3 or more years of French, and many more!  The application period is generally between mid-November and mid-January of each year.  You submit one application, and the Education Foundation will match the scholarship(s) that are the best fit for you out of all their offerings.
  • All college websites have a tab for “Financial Aid/Scholarships”, and most colleges have a listing of privately-funded merit-based and need-based scholarships that are distributed by the college.  For example, University of Florida has approximately 1300 private scholarships that are searchable by deadline date, college major, GPA, and department.  USF has a “USF Foundation” that funds dozens of scholarships for students, and there are additional scholarships funded through different academic departments at USF.  HCC also has a “HCC Foundation” that distributes privately funded scholarships – their deadline for the fall semester is typically in the spring.  These are separate from the institutional scholarships that are given out by the college.

According to the Hillsborough County Public Schools official Senior Handbook, there are several websites that are helpful resources for information about scholarships.  Here are the ones they recommend in the handbook:

  • – you have to sign up with a username and password.  If you supply some basic information, the site will provide lists of scholarships that are a good match for the student.  You can also designate certain colleges as “my colleges” and it will provide a good list of scholarships each college accepts, along with the deadlines for each.
  • – all Florida state funded scholarships and grants, including information on Florida Bright Futures. Students will need to complete the Florida Financial Aid Application found at the link above under First Time Applicants and Create A Student Account link.
  • IMPORTANT NOTE: Bright Futures Scholarship eligible students MUST complete the Florida Financial Aid Application (FFAA) by Aug. 31 after graduation to receive their Bright Future Scholarship reward. Application opens Oct. 1 of their senior year…don’t wait to apply!

State of Florida Financial Aid Options:

Find out about the Florida Student Scholarships & Grant Programs at  This website describes the Bright Futures program (three types/levels of scholarships) as well as many other financial aid programs for students.  Here is a quick outline of a few of the Florida aid programs (find updates to possible award amounts at the link above:

Name: Eligibility: How to apply: Amount:
First Generation Matching Grant Program (FGMG) Need-based grant for degree-seeking, resident students who demonstrate substantial financial need, are enrolled in eligible participating post-secondary institutions, and whose parents have not earned baccalaureate or higher degrees.  A student whose primary parent did not earn a baccalaureate degree would also be eligible (in single-parent household). Complete a FAFSA.  Student applies through the financial aid office of the post-secondary institution.  Each institution sets its own procedures and deadlines. Each institution sets its own award amount based on financial need of student.
William L. Boyd, IV Florida Resident Access Grant (FRAG) Student is FL resident and attends FL non-profit private college, full-time course load.  Not need-based. Eligible colleges create their own applications and eligibility.  Part of financial aid package put together by college.  No FAFSA required, but encouraged.  
Florida Student Assistant Grant (FSAG) Student is FL resident, demonstrates substantial financial need, is degree-seeking.  Four types: FSAG-Public, FSAG-Private, FSAG-Postsecondary, FSAG-CE.  Need-based. Complete a FAFSA.  Deadlines determined by each college. Postsecondary institution will determine  applicant eligibility and award amount.  Min. of $200
Talented Twenty Scholarship Program Senior graduating in top 20% of class (after posting of 7th semester grades) at a FL public school; take SAT OR ACT and submit scores.  Not need-based, but if FAFSA is completed and student qualifies for FSAG, he/she will receive priority funding from FSAG. Student must complete all 18 core course requirements for state university admission.  Student must submit SAT or ACT test scores prior to enrollment at university in the State Univ. System. Guaranteed admission to one of the FL public universities (within space/fiscal limitations); priority funding for FSAG, if eligible
Jose Marti Scholarship Challenge Grant Need-based merit scholarship for eligible students who are FL residents of Hispanic origin who will attend Florida public or eligible private institutions.  Must have min. 3.0 GPA (unweighted) by seventh semester of senior year. Must apply by April 1 of senior year through completing a free Initial Student Florida Financial Aid Application.Must complete FAFSA and demonstrate sufficient financial need to receive a full $2,000 scholarship. Award funding is subject to matching contributions from private sources and the FL legislature.
Florida Academic Scholars 3.5 weighted GPA in 16 college prep credits; 1290 SAT score in CR and M OR 29 ACT score; 100 hrs pre-approved community service Student must complete theFlorida Financial Aid Applicationonline.  
Florida Medallion Scholars 3.0 weighted GPA in 16 college prep credits; 1170 SAT score in CR and M OR 26 ACT score; 75 hrs pre-approved community service Student must complete theFlorida Financial Aid Applicationonline.  
Gold Seal Vocational Scholars 3.0 weighted GPA in core credits; min. of 3 career & technical educ. credits in one vocational program with unweighted 3.5 GPA in those courses; minimum 440 SAT in CR and M OR min. ACT scores 17 English, 18 Reading, 19 Math OR min. PERT 104 Reading, 99 Writing, and 113 Math; 30 hrs community service. Student must complete theFlorida Financial Aid Applicationonline.