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How Financial Aid History Works

Your financial aid history follows you long after you stop hanging out at the university library.
Your financial aid history follows you long after you stop hanging out at the university library.

If you're like most college students (or the parent of one), you know what financial aid is. But you may not have heard the term financial aid history. Think of that history as a fossil record. Fossils near the surface of the Earth tell us about an organism captured at a particular point in time. Archaeologists and geologists, however, look at the fossil record -- all of the rock layers in a region -- to get the full story on what happened in that area.

Like the fossil record, your financial aid history is comprehensive. It encapsulates all of the money you've ever received for school. The "aid" part of the term describes the sources of money included. All loans count -- from the U.S. government, states, schools and private lenders like banks and Sallie Mae. Grants also count. Grants constitute "gift" money from the federal or state government. You typically get them based on financial need or academic merit. Scholarships are aid, too; they're "gifts" from schools or associations, and are given out based on need, merit or some other factor. Work-study also falls under the category of aid. As you work at a campus job, the government or school pays you a salary.

Obviously, your financial aid history doesn't include money from your family or from your own pocket. These dollars aren't considered outside aid.

The "history" part of the term includes all of your schooling, from primary, or grade, school all the way to the graduate level, whether you're studying to be a doctor, lawyer or social worker. The history tracks the aid used for anything school-owned: tuition, a dormitory room, dining hall food or books.

It's important to think of your financial aid in terms of money you do and don't owe back. In most cases, you'll never have to pay back a grant, a scholarship or work-study money. You always have to pay back loans.