Funding Your Future

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Introduction to Financial Aid

What is covered:

  1. What is the difference between grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study? 
  2. How does a student receive financial aid? 
  3. How much does college cost, and what is included in the total cost?

Presented by:

  • Jenna Thiel – Education Foundation of Sarasota County
    Student Success Coach and Scholarship & Community Outreach Manager
  • Sisi Varela – Ringling College of Art & Design
    Assistant Director of Financial Aid

What is covered:

  1. FAFSA
  2. Grants, Loans, and Work-Study
  3. Florida Bright Futures
  4. Scholarships 

Presented by:

  • Jenna Thiel – Education Foundation of Sarasota County
    Student Success Coach and Scholarship & Community Outreach Manager
  • Andrea Lachapelle – State College of Florida, Sarasota/Manatee
    Financial Aid Director
  • Gabriela Jones – University of South Florida
    Assistant, Financial Aid Director
  • Yamir Crespo – UnidosNow
    Coordinator of Education Initiatives
    *Yamir will also be translating for our Spanish speakers

Check Out More Funding Your Future Resources

Scholarships are money awarded to you based on your academic or other achievements. You use this money to help pay for education expenses. You don’t have to repay scholarships.

There are many different types of state scholarships for Florida students, some based on financial need and others on academic merit or other criteria. Awards based on financial need will be determined by your FAFSA. You should also be aware that several of the need-based state awards are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, so complete the FAFSA process early!

The most well-known state scholarship is the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program. The program for Florida residents is a merit-based scholarship that rewards eligible high school students for their academic accomplishments by providing funding to pursue education after high school at institutions in Florida. These awards are determined based on academic achievement in high school (GPA), SAT and ACT scores, and completion of community service hours. Please review the current requirements. Students are eligible to apply for the Bright Futures Scholarship starting October 1st of their senior year.

Private scholarships are offered by organizations such as nonprofit foundations, social clubs, and for-profit companies. Some are based on academic merit, others on financial need, and others on specific characteristics such as gender, race, college major, or even specific traits such as first-generation college student, ethnicity, particular skill or talent, or membership to a club or organization by a family member.


The federal government and state governments provide grants you can use to pay for college. Most grants do not need to be repaid, unless, for example, you withdraw from a school and owe a refund. Well-known grants include Federal Pell Grants, TEACH Grants, and Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG).

Most grants are awarded to students who have financial need. While some scholarships are awarded for various criteria or merit, grants are almost always needs-based.

To receive grants and most other students financial aid, you must first submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. After you get accepted to a college, you will find out how much financial aid that college will offer you.

REMEMBER: Many grants are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. To receive grants, you must submit your FAFSA form before the deadline. The earlier you submit it, you will have a better chance to receive financial assistance. Don’t wait. Start this process as soon as you can.

Another way to pay for college is through work-study. Through a federal or state work-study program, you work on or off campus, earning money to pay for school. These opportunities are typically awarded to students with financial needs.

Work-study programs are administered by colleges and universities, so it’s important that you contact the financial aid office of your institution to find out if work-study is available. Your academic progress will help determine if you remain eligible for work-study, so you will need to maintain your grades.

To pay for college, you can also take out a loan. Loans are money you can borrow and repay over time, with interest added in most cases. You can take out loans through the federal government or through a private bank or other financial institution. Do note that federal student loans tend to have more benefits.

There are four main federal student loans: Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, and Direct Consolidation Loans.

While taking out a loan can be intimidating, it can also be an important investment in your future. Be sure that you get the right loan for your needs and circumstances, and consider how a loan will affect you and your family’s finances.

View a list of federal student loans.

Comparing Costs

After you have been accepted by a college, a financial aid award letter will outline college-based scholarships, grants, and loans. Some awards are renewable for up to four years, but not all are, so pay attention when you read each amount to understand the correct total. If you apply to several different colleges, you will need to be able to compare all of their offers side by side to help you make the best choice.

To determine how much the colleges that you’re accepted to will cost, compare their tuitions and fees and your financial aid.

To help you find your best option, use our Comparing Cost Worksheet.

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