Financial 101: Scholarships Explained

Financial aid is money lent or given to you to you help you pay for school. Scholarships are often referred to as “gift aid” because they do not need to be repaid upon graduation.  

Scholarships can be awarded by private organizations, governments, and colleges or universities. They are often merit based. This means that they are awarded on qualities, like academic merit or athletic ability.  

Sources of Scholarships 

Colleges and Universities 

Many colleges and universities offer scholarships to their students. They can be merit-based, need-based, or a combination of the two! Scholarships offered by colleges and universities may also have certain requirements to continue scholarship for your entire time on campus. These terms and conditions are outlined when you are awarded the scholarship.  


Some state governments may fund scholarships for residents attending college in their state. Your high school counselor will have more information regarding the kinds of scholarships your state may award.  

Private Organizations 

May companies, foundations, community organizations, and clubs sponsor scholarships. Scholars from these private organizations are called outside, or private, scholarships. Possible sources of outside scholarships include:  

  • Your parent/guardians’ employers or labor unions 
  • Your family’s religious center 
  • Organizations like 4-H, Girl Scouts, or Key Club.  

How to Find Scholarships 

To apply for scholarships, you will mostly likely start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the CSS Profile, if the schools you are applying to require it.  

Outside scholarships typically have their own application forms and processes. Start by talking with your school counselor about how to find outside scholarships. Be sure to also use online tools from reputable places, like the Encourage App! Outside scholarships typically have their own application forms and processes.  

Finding and applying to scholarships may take some time and effort, but we promise it will be worth it in the end! 

What is the CSS Profile?

As you are exploring your financial aid options, you may come across the CSS Profile. CSS stands for College Scholarship Service which is administered by College Board (The same organization who administers AP exams, PSAT, and SAT). Hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide require it as a supplement to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Be sure to check if colleges you are interested require you to submit the CSS Profile! Read on to learn more about CSS Profile:  

Why do I fill out the CSS Profile? 

The CSS Profile allows you to be considered for need-based financial aid from certain schools. It is more in-depth than the FAFSA, so colleges can see your true financial need on a deeper level.  

When do I fill out the CSS Profile? 

The CSS Profile typically opens on October 1 for the upcoming school year. You will want to submit your CSS Profile no later than two weeks before the earliest college or scholarship application deadline. 

What do I need to fill out the CSS Profile? 

Since the CSS Profile and FAFSA application are similar, they will require a lot of the same documents. It’s wise to go ahead and get the following items together:  

  • Your College Board login, if you took the SAT, PSAT, or AP exams, you should already have this. 
  • Federal tax returns (your guardians’ and yours if you file taxes) 
  • Your SSN and guardians’ (if applicable) 
  • Record of any untaxed income 
  • Bank statements 
  • Mortgage information 
  • Investment records 
  • Your debit or credit card. 

The initial cost of the application is $25. To send reports to additional schools, it is $16. If you qualify for a free SAT waiver, your application fee will be waived, and you will have the ability to send your CSS Profile to up to 8 schools for free.  

If you ever run into any questions while filling out your CSS Profile, take advantage of the email support, live chat, and phone support that College Board offers! 

Learn the Lingo: Financial Aid Vocabulary

When you’re new to the financial aid process, some terms may sound like a different language. Here we define a list of financial aid vocabulary to help you through this process. The terms listed below are universal among colleges in the USA, but there may be terms specific to each college. Don’t be afraid to ask your admissions counselor or financial aid counselor to explain certain terms to you.

Financial Aid Vocabulary:  

Award Letter

The document you receive from a college that outlines the term of the financial aid being awarded to you. The letter includes the types and amounts of financial aid offered, what you’re expected to do to keep the award and a deadline for accepting the award.  

Cost of Attendance (COA)

COA is more than just your tuition. It includes the cost of tuition, room and board, books, laptop, transportation, and other personal costs.  

CSS Profile

Some schools require a CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile for scholarship consideration. Check your schools of interest to see if they require a CSS Profile from you.  

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The EFC is the total out-of-pocket amount that your family can contribute towards your college expenses. This amount considers factors such as your family size, the number of family members already enrolled in college (if any), and taxable and non-taxable family income or assets. The EFC uses the information you include on your FAFSA

Financial Aid

Money given or loaned to you to help pay for college. Financial aid can come from federal and state governments, colleges, and other organizations.  

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Each year in college you will fill out the FAFSA for need-based aid. You will also need fill out the FAFSA if you wish to take out federal student loans to fund your education. The FAFSA typically opens October 1st for the following school year. If you’re unmarried and under the age of 24, be sure to have your and your parents’ tax info from two years ago. More about the FAFSA here. 


A kind of “gift aid” – financial aid that doesn’t have to be paid back. Grants are typically awarded based on financial need.  


Money you borrow from the government, a bank, or another source. Loans needs to be paid back, typically over an agreed period.  

Merit Aid

Financial aid given to students based on their personal achievements. Most scholarships are considered merit aid and can be awarded for success in a variety of areas including the arts, athletics, or academics.  

Need-Blind Admission

The practice of making college admission decisions without looking at students’ financial circumstances.  

Need-Based Financial Aid

Need aware is the opposite of need-blind. Colleges that are need-aware will take students’ ability to pay tuition into consideration when they are making admissions decisions. 

Net Price

Net price is the actual amount a student will pay for college. Typically, this means the published full cost of attendance (tuition, fees, room and board, supplies, and other expenses that are billed by the college/university) minus the amount of gift aid a student receives.  

Net Price Calculator

An online tool that gives you a personalized estimate of what it will cost to attend a specific college. Most colleges are required by law to post a net price calculator on their websites.  

Pell Grants

Pell Grants are federally funded, need-based grants for students who submit their FAFSA application. You do not need to pay back Pell Grants.  

Parent Loans for Undergraduate Study (PLUS Loans)

Parents can apply for a PLUS loan up to the Cost of Attendance minus any other aid. To qualify for this loan, parents must have a positive credit history. PLUS loans begin accruing interest and require repayment as soon as they disburse. 


Another kind of “gift aid” – financial aid that doesn’t have to be paid back. Scholarships can be awarded by private organizations, governments, and colleges or universities. They are often based on academic merit, talent, particular areas of study, athletic ability, or other criteria.  

Student Aid Report (SAR)

You’ll receive this report via email after submitting the FAFSA that details your expected family contribution (EFC). The SAR is your opportunity to review the information you have submitted and make sure it is accurate. 

Subsidized Loans

Subsidized loans are offered by the federal government and DO NOT accrue interest while you are still enrolled in college. Repayment begins 6 months after either graduation or dropping below half-time status. 

Unsubsidized Loans

Unsubsidized student loans from the government begin accruing interest immediately upon disbursement. Repayment will begin 6 months after graduation or after dropping below half-time status. If you have the ability, consider making interest-only payments while you are in school so that interest won’t capitalize.  


Work-study provides the opportunity to earn money for school by applying for on-campus jobs. Your work-study program will provide you with a certain amount that you are eligible to earn, and you will receive those funds in the form of a paycheck as you would with any other type of job. You can use these funds to help you pay for other costs associated with attending college, like transportation, food, social activities, and other living expenses. 

We hope that familiarizing with financial aid vocabulary will ease any anxieties you may feel about the process. Good luck! 

Your Guide to the FAFSA as a First-Time Applicant

The FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid allows you to be considered for financial aid from federal and state governments, and many colleges and universities.  Each year, the FAFSA opens on October 1 for the following school year, so mark your calendars or set a reminder in your phone. It’s best to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible, so you can be considered for the maximum amount of financial aid possible. Follow our steps below to complete and submit the FAFSA:  

Step 1: Create Your FSA ID 

Your FSA ID is the username and password that will grant access to certain Department of Education websites. It will also help verify your identity and serve as your digital signature for your FAFSA. If you are a dependent student, then your parent/guardian will need to create an FSA ID as well. 

Step 2: Gather Important Documents 

You’ll need to dig in the archives for the items below: 

  • Your Social Security Number 
  • Parents’ Social Security Numbers (if you’re a dependent student) 
  • Driver’s License Number (if applicable) 
  • Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. Citizen) 
  • Federal Tax Information including W-2 information for you (and your spouse, if you are married) and your parents (if you’re a dependent) from two years prior (i.e. 2022-2023 school year will use 2020 tax info) 
  • Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits, for you, and for your parents if you are a dependent student  
  • Information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate (but not including the home in which you live); and business and farm assets for you and for your parents if you are a dependent student 

Once you’ve input all this information, be sure to keep these documents in a safe, but accessible location in case you  

Step 3: Start the FAFSA 

You created your FSA ID, you tracked down your documents, and October 1 is here! It’s now time to start your FAFSA. Head on over to and click “Start Here.” Be sure to use ONLY From there, you can also use the myStudentAid mobile app. Unfortunately, there are scammy websites out there that are named and look very similar to the real website that will charge for filing your FAFSA. You should NEVER pay to file your FAFSA! Once you start a new application, you can create a save key. Make sure you don’t skip this step, so you can save your work and return where you left off, if you don’t complete the FAFSA in one sitting. 

Step 4: Are You a Dependent?  

The FAFSA will ask you several questions to determine your dependency status. In general, you are considered a dependent for FAFSA purposes if:  

  • You are under the age of 24, 
  • Unmarried,  
  • And not a member of the military.  

If you are classified as a dependent and feel you have an extenuating circumstance, we’d recommend connecting with your college financial aid office regarding your individual situation. 

Step 5: Input Financial Information 

This section is where you input your tax and financial information. If you are considered a dependent, you will input your parents’ information as well. Pro tip: if you have the option to use the “IRS data retrieval tool,” do it! This allows your tax return to automatically sync with your FAFSA. 

Step 6: Select FAFSA Recipients 

Colleges need your FAFSA information to be able to award financial aid. You are required to list one school, but you can add up to 10. Some states have specific requirements for how you need to list schools on your FAFSA in order to be considered for state grant aid, and you can review those guidelines on the Federal Student Aid website. The colleges on your list will then use your FAFSA to determine both the type and amount of aid they’ll offer you upon acceptance.  

Step 7: Sign and Submit the FAFSA 

One last thing: you must sign your FAFSA application using your FSA ID and hit “submit.” You’ll know you’ve successfully submitted your FAFSA once you’ve seen the confirmation page. You will also get an email confirmation of your submission. If you happen to have a sibling in college who is also a dependent, this confirmation page will allow you to transfer your parents’ info to their FAFSA as well. Be sure that your parent(s) sign your FAFSA, too!  

If you’re ever stuck on anything FAFSA related, you are not alone! Be sure to seek help from your high school counselor, college admissions counselor, or your prospective college’s financial aid office. Good luck! 

5 Tips to Rock Your First Internship

Congratulations! You’ve scored a great internship and are laying the foundation for your future as a professional. Internships are a great way to gain hands-on experience and increase your chances of finding a full-time job. Here are some tips to help shake the first day jitters and rock your internship:  

1. Be Prepared 

Do your research before you get there. Read up on the company’s purpose, history, and culture. You should also explore the industry and industry buzzwords. If you want to, you could also ask your supervisor for any reading or pre-work you should do before your first day! 

2. Show Your Commitment 

Show up to work on-time and be sure to get all your work done by the deadlines. Be sure to ask questions if you have them and express your enthusiasm and motivation for learning. It’s imperative to communicate your interest in your work. You should also ask your supervisor for feedback on the projects you work on. Doing this will give you areas to focus and improve upon so that you can make the most of your internship. 

3. Network 

Remember, an internship also offers you the unique opportunity to interact with and learn from people of different age groups and backgrounds. So be sure to introduce yourself and try to meet everyone in the office (or at least your department). Not only will this give insight into the way your company works, but you might also pick up a few extra projects along the way. Who knows, you may even find yourself a mentor too! 

4. Seize Opportunity 

Ask your supervisor about tasks you can work on when you don’t have anything specific to do. Take on the mindset that you want to contribute as much as you can before you leave your internship. By asking for more responsibilities, you may land a project that you can highlight on your resume and promote in future job interviews. By seizing each day, you will be able to keep yourself busy and set goals for yourself. 

5. Give It Your Best 

Doing the best you can is the most important rule when completing work-related tasks. By jumping into each task with everything you have, you are more likely to do a good job.  

By the end, be sure to thank your employer for the wonderful opportunity! Hopefully, with these tips, you will leave your internship with a valuable experience that taught you about the workplace and allowed you to forge relationships with professionals. Be sure to keep in touch even after the experience is over! 

4 Reasons Why Volunteering is Good for You

With hectic schedules, classes, jobs, and extracurriculars, it may seem impossible to find the time for volunteering. However, there are plenty of advantages to engage in service work. Here are a few reasons to do good and feel good: 

1. Give Back to the Community & Make an Impact 

Volunteering is a great way to make a difference within your community to make it the best it can be. Unsure of where to start? Try checking out your local animal shelters, food pantries, local libraries, art museums, retirement homes, hospitals, and so on. No matter the area of service you choose to be involved in, there is always room for helping hands. 

2. Gain Valuable Experience 

Your volunteering experience can help you improve on all kinds of skills, including public speaking, project management, teamwork, and maybe even practice with a second language. With these skills, you will boost your college applications and future employment prospects! Because volunteering requires passion and positivity, including it on your college applications or resume will give you a chance to share something personal with colleges and future employers. 

3. Meet New People 

Whether you’re volunteering at an animal shelter or helping at a food bank, you’ll be surrounded by other people who share your interests and values—and who want to help others too! Use community service as a chance to make new friends, network for your future, expand your support system, or simply feel a part of something bigger than yourself. 

4. Improve Your Health 

Researchers have found, through the measurement of brain activity and hormones, that helping others brings us great joy. Further, people who engage in altruistic activities feel a greater sense of meaning and purpose resulting in less stress and anxiety. Building self-esteem and developing self-confidence, service work has also shown to improve the mental health of people who suffer from addiction and various mental illnesses. 

Volunteering can be a rewarding hobby that ties you to your community and make a positive impact on those around you. To make sure your volunteer position is a good fit, be sure to ask questions about time commitments, training, and the team you’ll be working with. If one position doesn’t work out, don’t be afraid to explore other options. There are plenty of people and organizations that need help from someone just like you! 

Everything You Need to Know Before Your First College Visit

Visiting colleges is a great way to get a feel for what college is like, and help you decide if a particular college is the right fit for you.  

We’ve developed this guide to help you make the most of your college visits:  

Arrange Your Visit 

All colleges and universities have admission offices that can help you plan your visit. Your school may even organize group visits to campuses nearby. To get some tours on your schedule:  

  • Visit the websites of colleges you are interested in to see if they publish a calendar of their scheduled group tours. If you can’t find the calendar, you can always contact the admission office by email or phone to schedule a visit.  
  • Check with your school counselor to see if there are any organized campus tours you can take part in.  

If visiting a campus in-person isn’t an option, virtual visits and tours have become popular. Check in with the admission offices at colleges you are interested in to see if they offer visit events or tours for future students, like you. The good news is that these virtual resources can give you a sense of life on-campus through webinars, virtual panels, and video presentations.  

What to Expect During Your Visit 

Campus tours can range from a quick hour-long tour, webinar, or overnight immersive experience. Most in-person campus visits include the following:  

  • Information Sessions: These are typically led by admission representatives and cover the admission process of the specific college prior to the actual campus tour.  
  • Campus Tours: These are typically led by current students and showcase the highlight the main features of campus.  

At many colleges, you can also arrange the following to enhance your visit experience:  

  • Classroom visits 
  • Special information sessions hosted by different academic areas 
  • Meet with a financial aid officer 
  • Meet with your admission counselor 
  • Eat in the dining hall 
  • Spend a night in a dorm 

Whether you are visiting a campus in-person or participating in a virtual event, this is a great time to ask questions and interact with college staff and students. Stuck on what questions to ask? Here are some suggestions:  

  • What is your biggest piece of advice for a new student at XYZ University? 
  • Do all first-year students live on-campus? If so, are students guaranteed housing? 
  • What do most students do during the summer? 
  • What kind of hands-on experiences are built into my major? 
  • Are study abroad programs offered? 
  • What kind of on-campus jobs are available? Where do students work near campus? 
  • Is there tutoring I can access? 
  • Most popular majors/minors? 
  • What kind of services does the career center offer? 
  • Who will my advisor be? 
  • What kind of campus safety resources exist? 
  • What is there do on the weekends? Do a lot of students stay on campus on the weekend? 
  • Best tradition on campus? 
  • What do you wish you knew about the school before you came as a freshman?  

After Your Visit 

Take notes 

Right after your college visits, jot down some first impressions and thoughts about the school. This is especially useful if you’re using the same trip to visit multiple schools. You may find that a lot of the colleges blend after a few tours. Having notes to review later will be useful when it comes time to compare your options.  

Notice the weather 

If the weather is not ideal during your visit, think about how it might impact your opinion of that campus. You want to make sure you choose a college that is ideal for you, so don’t rule out a school too quickly if the weather left you with a bad impression. 

Collect contact information 

When learning about a school, it’s easier to reach out to people you’ve already met. That way, you can continue a conversation and show demonstrated interest. When on your campus tour, ask for your guide’s name and email. You may also want to ask for the card of your admissions counselor, so you can have their contact information as well.