Sometimes, navigating the college financial aid world can seem like learning a whole new language. We’re here to help translate.

The biggest thing you need to understand is the difference between grants and loans.

  • Grants
  • Grants are funding you don’t have to pay back – sometimes referred to as “gift aid.”
  • Loans
  • Student loans are like any other loan. – you’ll eventually have to pay them back (with interest).

In either case, the best starting point is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) which will help determine the type and amount of funding you’re eligible for.

Complete the FAFSA Now!

Grants To Help Pay for College

Federal and state grants are primarily need-based but some have other individual requirements for eligibility.

There are both federal grants and State of Wisconsin grants available.

  • Federal Grants

    Pell Grant

    The Federal Pell Grant program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Award amounts will vary based on your estimated family contribution (EFC) as determined by your FAFSA and your enrollment status [LINK]. If you’re not enrolled for the semester at the time of your initial award, the amount will be based on an anticipated full-time status. Financial aid awards are based on enrollment as of 4:30 p.m. on the Pell Recalculation Date for each semester.

    Year Round Pell

    The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 allows you to receive the Federal Pell Grant up to 150 percent of your Pell Grant Scheduled Award. To be eligible for the additional Pell Grant funds, you must meet all general eligibility requirements to receive financial aid and be enrolled at least half-time (6 credits) in an eligible financial aid program.

    If you are planning to attend summer term and interested in Year Round Pell Grant and other financial aid eligibility, you should visit the Summer Financial Aid page to learn about additional requirements.

    Important Note: Pell Grant eligibility is limited to 12 full-time semesters or 600% by federal law. This limit is referred to as lifetime eligibility used (LEU). If you exceed your LEU [LINK] you are no longer eligible to receive Pell Grant funding. Students are encouraged to check their lifetime eligibility used (LEU) through Federal Student Aid (NSLDS). Learn more about this limit.

    Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

    The FSEOG is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. It is available to high-need students on the basis of financial need. To be eligible, you must be enrolled at half-time  status (6 credits) and is awarded on a first come, first serve basis.

    Iraq or Afghanistan Service Grant

    The Iraq or Afghanistan Service Grant is awarded to a student whose parent or guardian died as a result of U.S. military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after September 11, 2001. Identified students may receive increased federal financial aid if at the time of the parent or guardian’s death they were either less than 24 years old or were enrolled in college.  

    Eligibility is based on the following:

    • You are Pell eligible but have not received the maximum amount based on your EFC, OR
    • You are not Pell Grant eligible because your EFC is too high, you may then receive the IASG.

    For students who are eligible, the Financial Aid Office will automatically offer this grant based on information provided by the Department of Education.

    Children of Fallen Heroes

    The Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship is awarded to a student whose parent or guardian died in the line of duty while performing as a public safety officer. If you are eligible, you may receive an increased amount of federal financial aid under the program.

    Eligibility is based on the following: 

    • You are Pell Grant eligible
    • You were less than 24 years old when your parent or guardian died; or
    • You were enrolled at an institution of higher education at the time of a parent or guardian’s death.

    For consideration of this scholarship, you must contact the Financial Aid Office at and provide any required documentation requested. The College will determine, based on documentation submitted, whether or not you meet the eligibility criteria.

  • State Grants

    The Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board is the go-to source for information on state grants.

    Before you dig in, know that to be eligible for these grants, you must meet the following requirements (plus individual grants, might have additional eligibility criteria).

    • Be a resident of the state of Wisconsin.
    • Have a high school diploma, GED or equivalent.
    • Be enrolled at least a half time (6 credits) for most grants.
    • Be admitted to an eligible program of study.
    • Be registered with Selective Service, if you are required to register.
    • Not exceed eligibility greater than ten semesters, unless otherwise specified.
    • Not be listed on the Department of Workforce Development’s statewide Child Support Lien Docket, unless you have an approved payment plan.

Loans To Help Pay for College

To determine if you are eligible for a student loan, you must first complete the FAFSA.

In addition to demonstrating financial need (via the FAFSA) and meeting whatever eligibility a specific student loan might require, you must also:

  • Be taking at least 6 credits.
  • Have remaining eligibility in your cost of attendance – which basically means that you can’t be receiving more financial aid that it costs you to attend school.

Like grants, there are a few different types of student loans that you might be eligible for depending on your specific situation including direct loans (subsidized and unsubsidized), Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students (PLUS), and private loans.

In addition, there may be specific loans like Wisconsin’s Nursing Student Loans for a specific student population.

  • Direct Loans

    Federal Direct Loans are low-interest loans offered by the U.S. Department of Education to eligible students. There are two types of Federal Direct Loans: subsidized and unsubsidized. For complete information about the Federal Direct Loan program, including current interest rates, annual limits and aggregate limits, visit the Federal Student Aid website.

    Federal Direct Subsidized Loan

    Eligibility for a subsidized loan is based on financial need as determined by your Cost of Attendance and estimated family contribution (EFC). With this loan, the government will pay the interest while you are enrolled at least half time (6 credits), during your grace period (unless you received a subsidized loan that was first disbursed between July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2014) and during any periods of deferment. 

    Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan

    A FAFSA is required to receive an unsubsidized loan, but eligibility is not based on financial need. The amount will be determined based on your cost of attendance, any other aid received, and the federal annual loan limits. With this loan, interest will start accruing as soon as it is disbursed.

    Before Disbursement

    • You must meet the eligibility requirements.
    • You must not exceed federal aggregate loan limits.
    • Once you receive your Award Offer Notification in your student email, go into your myMadisonCollege Student Center and accept or decline your awards. Awards usually include both the fall and spring semester for that aid year. When accepting your loans, be sure you are accepting enough for the entire aid year.
    • Complete Entrance Counseling to better understand your responsibilities and obligations by borrowing student loans.
    • Complete a Subsidized/Unsubsidized Master Promissory Note (MPN). The MPN is a legal document in which you are promising to repay your loan(s) and any accrued interest and fees to the U.S. Department of Education.
    • Complete the Annual Student Loan Acknowledgement (ASLA).
    • View the disbursement page for additional information on when you will receive your funds.

    If you received a Federal Direct Loan(s) and you graduate, drop below half-time or withdraw, you are required to complete Exit Loan Counseling. You may do this online at the Student Loans website. The purpose of exit counseling is to inform you of your obligations and options regarding the repayment of your Federal Direct Loan(s).

  • PLUS Loans

    The Federal Direct Parent PLUS Loan (often referred to as Parent PLUS) is a credit-based loan offered by the U.S. Department of Education. The loan is available to parents of dependent students who need help paying for education related expenses.

    The PLUS loan is in the name of the parent and cannot be transferred to the student (regardless of personal payment arrangements between the parent and student). Repayment begins 60 days after the last disbursement. Parents may request a deferment if the student is still enrolled at least half time (6 credits) or up to six months after the student is less than half time or is done attending school.

    Eligibility Requirements

    • The parent must meet the Direct PLUS loan eligibility requirements.
    • The parent must be the biological, adoptive or, in some cases, stepparent of a Madison College student enrolled in an eligible program .
    • The parent must not have an adverse credit history. (Some exceptions may apply.)
    • The student must be dependent.
    • The student must be awarded financial aid.

    How Do Parents Apply?

    1. Go to and, under the Parent Borrowers tab, select Apply for a PLUS Loan to access the application and conduct the credit check. If the decision is denied, the parent has the option to reapply using an endorser (co-signer). A PLUS Credit Counseling requirement applies when there is an endorser.
    2. Complete the Loan Agreement for a PLUS Loan (MPN) upon an approved credit decision.
    3. Submit the PLUS Loan Request to Madison College's Financial Aid Office for awarding purposes.

    The PLUS loan can be awarded up to the cost of attendance after other estimated financial aid is considered. Interest starts accruing on the loan at disbursement. Interest rates are subject to change every year on July 1 for every new disbursed loan.

    Loans are disbursed through the student’s account at Madison College to pay off any tuition and fees owed (in addition to any funds for which permission had been granted). Any funding left over after paying off the balance owed will be refunded directly to the parent in the form of a check.

    Private Loans

    Private or alternative student loans or private parent loans are offered through a variety of lending institutions. They are not considered federal loans. These loans can be taken out by a student, parent, family member, or sponsor (any creditworthy individual). These loans should only be considered when all other aid options (grants, work study, and other loans)have been exhausted. Loan amounts may not exceed the student’s remaining financial need up to the cost of attendance.

    Eligibility Requirements

    • You must meet the eligibility requirements for financial aid and have received an Award Notification in your student email.
    • You must have a credit score high enough to qualify for the loan or a cosigner with an eligible credit score.
    • Each lender may have additional requirements. Follow the application procedure below to find out what loans you may be eligible for and the eligibility requirements.  

    Be sure to pay attention to interest rates, repayment obligations and repayment plan options before applying for a private or alternative loan. If you have questions regarding the loan, contact the loan provider.

    Preferred Lender List

    The Financial Aid department utilizes FASTChoice, a loan comparison tool offered by Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation that allows students to compare up to three different loans side-by-side. 

    You can also visit FASTChoice to see our preferred lender list. 

    Preferred Lender List Disclosures

    In an effort to provide better counseling services to our students, Madison College has entered into a preferred lender arrangement (PLA). Federal and state law mandates that we must provide the following disclosures in association with this process:

    Method and Criteria for Lender Selection

    Madison College evaluates and selects lenders based on requested information from lenders. Factors considered include competitive interest rates and origination fees, borrower benefits, electronic application and processing, co-signer release options, deferment and repayment terms as well as the most widely used lenders by current and former students, and high quality of servicing the loans.

    After reviewing the information submitted by each lender, we felt the lenders represented on our list best fit the criteria we set forth. Each year we review our list of preferred lenders. 


    This list does not contain affiliated lenders.

    Making the Decision

    You may borrow from any lender you choose and are not required to use a lender on Madison College’s preferred lender list. Madison College will process loans from any eligible lender you select.


    Preferred Lender Arrangements are required to be reviewed annually to ensure that competitive products that are in the best interest of the borrower are being offered.  Please provide us with feedback regarding any positive and/or negative aspects that may have been experienced when working with a particular lender.  Feedback can be sent to sends e-mail).

    How to Apply

    You may apply for a private or alternative loan at the financial institution of your choice, but doing so will significantly delay the time frame in which you receive those funds. We recommend you follow the steps below to apply for the most common loans taken out by Madison College students.

    1. Go to FASTChoice and select "Student - Private Loan Options" (for students) OR select "Parent - Private Loan Options" (for parents, family members, or sponsors)
    2. (Student's only) Complete Borrowing Essentials to learn about borrowing money.
    3. Select Continue.
    4. Read and understand the Loan Product Disclosures.
    5. Use the filter option to select undergraduate and select filter Loans.
    6. Compare the different student loan options that are provided.
    7. Once you find a loan you are interested in, select Apply.
    8. Provide the lender with all required information and submit your application.
    9. The lender will receive your application and review it to determine if you qualify. They will contact you regarding the outcome of the loan application. If your loan is approved, the lender also notifies the Financial Aid Office at Madison College.
    10. The Financial Aid Office will review your account, and if you meet the eligibility requirements, your loan will be certified.
    11. It will then take at least 14 business days for the loan monies to come to Madison College pursuant to Section 155 of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, (HEA) and to satisfy the requirements of Section 128(e)(3) of the Truth in Lending Act .
    12. See our disbursement page for information about what happens after the money is received.

We’re Here to Help

You’re never alone in trying to figure this all out. Our financial aid counselors are experts in helping students tap into the aid they need.