In the U.S.

The United States government provides need-based financial aid in the form of Federal Pell grants, Federal SEOG Grants, SSIG Grants, Federal Work-Study, Federal Stafford loans (in a subsidized and unsubsidized form), Federal Perkins Loans, and Federal Parent (PLUS) loans. Federal Perkins Loans are made by participating schools per annual appropriations from the US Department of Education, whereas Federal Stafford Loans and Federal PLUS Loans are made by participating lenders under the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP). The US Department of Education serves as a lender and guarantor under the William D. Ford Direct Loan Program. Schools with graduate and/or professional programs may act as a lender under the FFELP (if they met all criteria for the program and made their first loan by 4/1/2006). In order to qualify for federal student aid (except for Federal PLUS Loans), a student must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

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) educational loan, available from most large lending institutions. Typically, educational loans obtained through the federal government have lower interest rates than private educational loans.

Institutions may also offer their own student financial assistance, in the form of need-based or merit-based aid, as well as endowed scholarships (with varying need and/or merit-based criteria). Some schools 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, in order to apply a more stringent need analysis for the rationalization of institutional funds.