How much financial aid can you get?

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If you need to borrow money to pay for college, you have a few different options to choose from. Depending on your year in school, your status and your financial need, it’s possible that you can get enough financial aid to cover the entire cost of your attendance. However, in many cases, there are limits. Here’s how much the FAFSA gives in financial aid.

Federal financial aid limits

Federal financial aid includes federal grants, student loans and work-study programs. The financial aid limit for each program varies by school, year and more. For instance, the Pell Grant, TEACH Grant and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant maximum awards are subject to change every year. The maximum amount you can get through Direct Loans also increases for each year you’re in school.

Keep in mind that you may not qualify for the published maximum for some grants; schools have limited funding available, and most financial aid is calculated based on your financial need. With that said, here are the published maximums for all of the major federal financial aid programs:

Maximum amount (2021-22) Who is eligible?
Pell Grant $6,495 per year Undergraduate students with financial need, some postbaccalaureate teacher certification students
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) $4,000 per year Undergraduate students with financial need
Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant $3,772 per year Undergraduate, postbaccalaureate and graduate students who agree to complete a teaching service obligation
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant $6,124.79 per year Undergraduate students whose parent died as a result of post-9/11 service
Direct Subsidized Loan $3,500 to $5,500 per year, depending on year in school Undergraduate students with financial need
Direct Unsubsidized Loan $5,500 to $20,500 per year, depending on year in school and dependency status Undergraduate and graduate students
Direct PLUS Loan Total cost of attendance Graduate and professional students
Federal work-study Varies by school Undergraduates, graduates and professionals with financial need

How is my financial aid calculated?

Once you complete your FAFSA, your financial aid award amount is calculated using a few metrics:

  • Expected family contribution (EFC): This is how much your family is expected to pay for your education on your behalf.
  • Your year in school: First-year dependent students will have lower student loan maximums than second- and third-year students.
  • Enrollment status: You’ll get less financial aid as a part-time student than as a full-time one.
  • Cost of attendance: Each school has its own cost of attendance, which comes from tuition, fees, room and board, books, supplies and more.

Your school’s financial aid office determines how much need-based aid you’re eligible for by subtracting your expected family contribution from your cost of attendance. Need-based aid includes federal grants and Direct Subsidized Loans.

For non-need-based aid, like Direct Unsubsidized Loans, your school takes your cost of attendance and subtracts any financial aid you’ve already been awarded.

How to estimate your financial aid package

Every student’s financial aid offer will look a little different. Tools like the Federal Student Aid Estimator help you figure out how much you’re on the hook for when it comes to paying for college, as well as estimate your financial aid package. You can also use the Get2College Expected Family Contribution Calculator if you want to get an idea of your family’s responsibility before submitting the FAFSA.

Next steps

As you’re planning your college future, funding will play a big role. It’s possible that your financial aid package will cover a large portion of your education costs, but you may have to look beyond the FAFSA for help. Do your best to exhaust all of your free money resources through grants and scholarships first, since the more free money you get now, the less you’ll have to rely on student loans. If you still need cash, student loans are a useful tool to fill in the gaps.

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Written by
Dori Zinn
Contributing writer
Dori Zinn has been a personal finance journalist for more than a decade. Aside from her work for Bankrate, her bylines have appeared on CNET, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, Wirecutter, Quartz, Inc. and more. She loves helping people learn about money, specializing in topics like investing, real estate, borrowing money and financial literacy.
Edited by
Student loans editor