Financial Aid 101

Washington’s independent colleges and universities are affordable to students of all family incomes. Through a combination of aid programs – scholarships, grants, loans, and work study – most students find that attending a private institution can be as affordable as attending a state institution.

The most important aspect of choosing a college however, is finding the right “fit”. Independent colleges and universities offer diverse settings and programs.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can’t afford the education you want; financial aid is available and financial aid officers are committed to help.

Types of Financial Aid available

Scholarships and Grants consist of institutional, state, federal, or outside sources of funding that do not need to be repaid. 90% of students attending an independent college in Washington receive institutional grants or other aid. Read more about scholarships and state/federal aid below.

Work Study programs let you earn money and gain work experience while you are in college. These are generally for part-time employment, allowing time to attend classes and to study. Some programs offer the added advantage of employment related to your field of study or career interests. Read more about Work Study below.

Loans must be paid back in full, with interest. The terms of repayment vary. Generally, repayment does not begin until after you leave school. Some loan programs do not require that you have financial need in order to qualify. Student loans based on financial need carry interest rates that are lower than most other kinds of loans, because the government helps pay the interest. Read more about loans below.

There are many sources of financial aid available from the federal and state governments, colleges and universities, and private organizations.

Financial aid significantly lowers the amount of tuition you will have to pay. To apply for federal student financial aid, and to apply for many state student aid programs, students must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).


Scholarships and grants can be awarded on any number of qualifications, such as financial need, merit, major, and/or community/organization affiliation. Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, but there are general distinctions.

Scholarships are often a competitive award. There are typically few recipients, and they are selected on the basis of their application by a committee.


Grants are often more inclusive and may serve a larger audience. Recipients are often selected based on qualifying characteristics and the availability of funds, rather than competing against each other.

About 90% of first-time, full-time undergraduate students attending a Washington independent college receive scholarships and grants.

The State Need Grant, for instance, is awarded to about 70,000 Washington students whose family income is less than 70% of the state median. Submitting the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is all that is necessary to “apply” for the grant.

Institutional Aid

When financial aid is awarded to students directly from the college or university, it is often termed Institutional Aid.

These funds are awarded to help offset the cost of tuition and fees, and can be a significant source of funds. In 2015-2016, ICW members allocated nearly $380 million in institutional aid to students.

Often, institutional aid is allocated by the financial aid office when the student is initially accepted to the college, and does not require a separate application besides the FAFSA and standard financial aid forms. It may be based on need or merit – or both need and merit.

Independent Colleges of Washington awards over $1 million each year to students attending our ten member colleges and universities.

Please visit our Scholarship Page if you attend, or are planning to attend, a member institution.

Consider registering at for over $14 million in scholarships specific to Washington students. The site, developed by the Washington Scholarship Coalition, of which ICW is a proud member, and the Higher Education Coordinating Board, is personalized and spam free.

The State of Washington continues to support higher education through a series of financial aid programs. For additional information on Washington state financial aid, please visit the website of the Washington Student Achievement Council.

To receive the Washington State Need Grant, students must demonstrate financial need, be a resident of the state, enrolled half-time or greater, be an undergraduate in an eligible degree-seeking program, and have family income below 70 percent of the median family in come (about $57,500 for a family of four). This grant is awarded based on the filing of the Free Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA) form. As with federal grants, the SNG does not have to be repaid. The maximum grant at independent colleges in 2017-18 is $9,553.

Pell Grants are awarded to eligible undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s or professional degree. The maximum award for the 2017-18 academic year is $5,920. The amount a student receives depends on the student’s financial need and the cost of attending that particular college.

FSEOG (Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant) is for undergraduates with exceptional financial need; Pell Grant recipients have priority for funds. The amount depends on the student’s financial need, the amount of other aid received, and the availability of funds at the school. The grant is anywhere between $100 and $4,000.

The Federal Work Study program provides jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need. It encourages community service work and work related to a student’s course of study. The salary is at least the current federal minimum wage and students, on average, earn $2,000 to $5,000 a year.

The Washington State Work Study program helps students from low- and middle-income families earn money for college while gaining experience whenever possible in jobs related to their academic and career goals. You will be considered for work study when you file a FAFSA.

The Perkins Loan is a low-interest (five percent) loan for undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need. The loan is made with government and institutional funds. The college or university is the lender, and the loan is repaid to the institution.

To receive a Federal Subsidized Loan, the student must have financial need. Under this program, the federal government pays the interest on the loan during the time the student is attending school and during the six-month grace period following graduation. Unsubsidized Loans are available to students who do not meet the financial need requirements. Students are then responsible for full repayment of the loan.

PLUS Loans are available to all families regardless of their income. The loan is made directly to the parents and permits them to borrow up to the cost of attendance minus any financial aid received. The interest rate is not to exceed nine percent. Repayment usually begins within 60 days after receipt of the funds. Applications are available at lending institutions.

More information on Loans can be found on the Department of Education website.

You need to submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to the federal student aid programs processor. The FAFSA, available on-line in December, is the national standardized form used by colleges and universities across the country to award aid. You should submit your application regardless of whether you think you will qualify for any federal financial aid, since most colleges and universities require the FAFSA to determine what else you might qualify for in terms of institutional and/or state assistance. The FAFSA is available at high schools, community colleges and on the web (

An analysis of your FAFSA determines how much you and your family can afford to contribute to your education. This is called your Expected Family Contribution or EFC. A variety of factors are taken into account: family income, total savings, family size, parents’ ages (and their need to save for retirement) and the number of family members in college at the same time.

There is no simple formula to determine if you will be eligible for financial aid. If you have concerns about college costs, and you are a United States citizen or permanent resident, you should apply.

The federal student aid programs processor will review your FAFSA and determine how much money you and your family can reasonably contribute toward your college education. If the amount you can pay falls short of the cost of attending the institution of your choice, you may cover the rest of your expenses with financial assistance.

For optimal aid consideration, you are strongly encouraged to submit your FAFSA between January 1 and January 31.