Most financial aid awards consist of a combination of gift aid, loans, and work-study amounts. To be clear of what you’re getting and what each of these entails, you need to understand the differences. 

Gift Aid

You don't have to repay it or work for it so gift aid is definitely the preferred form of financial aid. It can consist of scholarships (usually based on academics, talent or personal attributes) or grants (most often need-based). Timeframes and amounts vary greatly: the coveted full ride scholarship awards cover all costs of a four-year Bachelors program, while other forms of gift aid are awarded annually. Questions to ask:

  • Do I have to apply every year to keep my scholarship?
  • Is there a minimum grade point average or other condition?
  • If I win an outside scholarship, what happens to my gift aid?
  • Can the aid be increased if my family has financial problems?
  • Do I have to do anything more than maintain satisfactory grades?


Loans may or may not be based on need but always need to be repaid. If your student loan is based on need, it will be subsidized so you don't have to pay the yearly interest while you're in college. After you graduate or leave school, your payments will begin and include the amount you borrowed plus interest. Unsubsidized loans, which are not based on need, are used to help pay your share of college costs and usually don’t appear as part of your award package. These loans require you to make yearly interest payments while enrolled. Questions to ask:

  • What are the terms of my loan?
  • Is the yearly interest paid by the government or me?
  • What is the interest rate, and when do I start repayment?
  • How much will I owe by the time I graduate?
  • What will my monthly repayment be?


Work-study is a government-sponsored program that enables students to earn money in a job the college helps you find. Most jobs are on or near campus and the hours are geared around your class schedule so you can earn the allotted amount and use it for expenses such as books, utilities and spending money. Questions to ask:

  • Do I have a guaranteed job, or will I have to find one?
  • How are jobs assigned?
  • How many hours per week will I be expected to work?
  • What is the hourly wage?
  • How often will I be paid?
  • Will I be paid directly, or will my student account get credited?