Simply put, financial aid is any assistance a student receives to help pay the student’s educational costs while attending college. Educational costs are those expenses a student NEEDS to attend school, as determined by the educational institution in conjunction with survey figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and/or other agencies. Each school must determine its own Cost of Attendance Budgets based on its tuition, fees, the student’s living arrangements, transportation costs, etc.
Financial aid can come in many forms, including, but not limited to, scholarships, fellowships, assistantships, grants, student employment, tuition remissions, third-party payments from outside agencies, government and private loans, lines of credit, and in Canada, bursaries. On the graduate level, the bulk of financial aid comes from federal student loans, as neither the U.S. Department of Education nor the State of Michigan provide grant funds for graduate or professional students. While most aid comes from the federal government, students may apply for institutional and private scholarships as well as funding from private lenders and government- or institutionally-funded work programs. The University also certifies enrollment for the VA, Vocational Rehabilitation, and other governmental, quasi-governmental and private funding agencies.
Note that financial aid is limited to costs for the student to attend school. Federal aid does not include funds for purchasing assets like a car or paying off consumer debt; neither does it pay for living or educational expenses for people other than the student, nor is it to be used to pay court-ordered payments such as child support, alimony, restitution, etc. It may be used for direct costs, such as tuition, fees, books, supplies, etc. and for basic living costs such as the student’s part of monthly payments for rent or mortgage (low to moderate standard of living) and utilities; food; health care; transportation (bus fare or standard mileage allowance) and other necessities. Federal financial aid cannot be used for expenses for things like bar review courses, but on an individual basis, students in their senior year may request consideration for costs of taking the bar exam, such as the bar exam fees, required police reports, fingerprinting, etc., as long as they can provide documentation of these. In addition, there are private bar loans to cover bar review costs.
Students may request special consideration for additional funds to use for dependent care expenses for the time the student is in classes and class-related activities, such as attending court hearings, special law school functions; study group meetings and the like, but not to be able to work or to perform family duties, etc. (Please note that per IRS regulations, a dependent care tax credit is available only for a parent to work or look for work; therefore, any part of financial aid funds used to pay child care is not eligible for the child care tax credit.)
Students who have a disability for which they need special equipment or other accommodations (for example, a note taker; a reader for the blind; special software for a blind student to be able to use a computer with spoken words rather than typing; a signer for the deaf; etc.) or whose unreimbursed medical costs are excessive may also petition for an increase in their aid package. Of course, any unusual conditions must be documented. Students should contact the Financial Aid Office for more information if they believe they may have a condition that qualifies for reconsideration.