Student financial aid in the United States is funding intended to help students pay educational expenses including tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, etc. for education at a college, university, or private school. General governmental funding for public education is not called financial aid, which refers to awards to specific individual students. Certain governments, e.g. Nordic countries, provide student benefit. A scholarship is sometimes used as a synonym for a financial aid award, although grants and student loans are also components of financial aid packages from students' intended colleges.
The United States government and all U.S. state governments provide merit and need-based student aid including grants, work-study, and loans. As of 2010 there are nine federal and 605 state student aid programs and many of the nearly 7,000 post-secondary institutions provide merit aid. Major federal grants include the Pell Grants, Federal SEOG Grants, SMART Grants, Academic Competitiveness Grants (ACG Grant), Federal Work-Study Program, Federal Stafford Loans (in subsidized and unsubsidized forms), State Student Incentive Grants and Federal PLUS Loans. Federal Perkins Loans are made by participating schools per annual appropriations from the U.S. Department of Education. Federal Stafford Loans and Federal PLUS Loans are made by the U.S. Department of Education. As of April 2010, Congress voted to eliminate the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) which had allowed private lenders to make student loans guaranteed by the federal government.
State governments also typically provide some types of need- and non-need-based aid, consisting of grants, loans, work-study programs, tuition waivers, and scholarships. Individual colleges and universities may provide grants and need- and merit-based scholarships. Students requiring financial aid beyond what is offered by their institution may consider a private (alternative) education loan, available from most large lending institutions. Typically, education loans obtained through the federal government have lower interest rates than private education loans. Institutions may also offer their own student financial assistance, in the form of need- or merit-based aid, as well as endowed scholarships (with varying need and/or merit-based criteria). Some institutions may only require the FAFSA; some may also require an additional need-based analysis document, such as the CSS/Profile, to apply for such funds to apply a more stringent need analysis for the rationalization of institutional funds.