Blog Financial Aid

Financial Aid 101

By Jackie Lea Sommers ’03 on Friday, January 19, 2024


As we start 2024, we know thoughts are also turning to financial aid. Many are aware that this is a unique year with the FAFSA Simplification Act representing a significant overhaul of the processes used to award students. At Northwestern, we want to take the confusion and complication out of financial aid season. Here is what you need to know:


Merit-based aid is financial aid based on a student’s gifts or abilities (for example, musical talent, excellent grades, leadership skills, etc.). Start by exploring opportunities offered by your top colleges—UNW’s scholarships are listed here!—as well as outside businesses and organizations. I recommend scholarships sites like and For students who are admitted to UNW, ask your admission counselor; we keep a running list! 

Tip: Outside scholarships are often based on a student’s majorhobbiesvalueschallenges, and goalsClick links for examples. 


Need-based aid is financial aid based on a family’s financial situation. This is assessed by completing a government form called the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Although the FAFSA is typically available October 1 of each year, the 2024-25 FAFSA had a delayed launch. Please note that the FAFSA is currently part of a “soft launch”. During the soft launch, the FAFSA form will be available periodically while the Federal Student Aid team monitor’s site performance and form functionality.

Anticipated Timeline
  • The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is now open in a “soft launch” capacity. 
  • UNW anticipates we will begin awarding aid in early March 2024.
  • Your admission counselor will be happy to review your award with you at that time. 
Anticipated Changes
  • Fewer questions and fewer requirements.
  • Eligibility of federal financial aid will be expanded.
  • FAFSA is introducing a new term contributor, referring to anyone required to provide information on the FAFSA. This term does not imply contributing to a student’s college costs.
  • All contributors must provide consent to directly transfer data from the IRS to the FAFSA. 

Your Next Steps
  • Each student and one contributor must create an account
  • Complete the FAFSA. Make sure to use Northwestern’s code: 002371
  • List up to 20 colleges you’d like FAFSA to send these results to, so that they can begin the awarding process.

Tip: Prevent delays by adding all your top choices for schools to the FAFSA before you submit it, as you will not be able to update this list again until February.


After an admitted UNW student is sent an award letter, we encourage families to schedule a virtual or in-person meeting with an admission counselor to go over the award in detail; explain the requirements for various scholarships, grants, and loans; and explain work study and student employment opportunities.

Tip: If your family has a unique financial situation, ask your admission counselor whether your student may be a good candidate for an appeal. 

Northwestern is with you every step of this journey. We are eager to help your family qualify for the most aid possible. Once you have your award letters in hand and fully understood, it will be time to make your final decision!