The amount of federal financial aid you can receive from filing your FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is equal to your college’s “Cost of Attendance”, which includes tuition, room and board, books, and other necessary expenses.
In other words, it’s possible to receive a federal financial aid package that covers everything you need to pay for college, although that’s not the most likely outcome for most students.
That’s the short answer.
The long answer about how much financial aid you’re likely to get is more complicated.
How does a college calculate federal financial aid offers and your EFC?
The FSA believes that students and their families should be contributing to the costs of a student’s education, which is why the FAFSA® itself generates a score called the “Expected Family Contribution (EFC).” That number is the amount the student and his or her family is expected to contribute financially to the student’s education expenses for the academic year.
Your college will take your EFC and plug it into this formula to calculate how much financial aid to offer you:
Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – Cost of Attendance = Need-based financial aid offer.
Whether that financial aid is offered in the form of grants, scholarships or federal student loans is up to your college. Your school may also choose to offer you additional aid beyond your need-based financial aid offer.
More information about how a student’s EFC is calculated can be found here.
How much federal financial aid does a FAFSA® applicant usually get?
The maximum Federal Pell Grant Award (which is the main grant for college undergraduates through the FAFSA®) for the 2020-21 award year is $6,345. Schools may offer less than the full amount depending on the student’s need or academic load. The Federal Pell Grant is one of the most common forms of federal financial aid given your EFC.
The maximum Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is $4,000, with an average grant of $599.
Your college may also use your FAFSA® to determine eligibility for a variety of scholarships that are awarded on the basis of merit. While it’s possible that your academic expenses are entirely covered by “full-ride” scholarships, only .3% of students typically receive such offers.
Grants and scholarships are highly coveted by students since, unlike loans, they do not need to be paid back. The good news is that as many as two-thirds of all students receive at least some aid in the form of grants or scholarships from their college and federal aid.
Scholarships are usually not determined by your EFC but are based on things like merit, community service, and other factors.
Students who file their FAFSA® early are more likely to receive more financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships than those who wait until the last minute. While students who file late will still have their financial needs met, those offers are likely to contain more loans and fewer grants and scholarships.
What are the FAFSA® federal student loan limits?
There are two primary types of federal student loans, the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) and the Federal Perkins Loan (which are no longer available). Generally, the interest rates are lower on federal loans, and the repayment plans are more varied and flexible. To apply for a federal loan, you will need to file your FAFSA®.
The most loan aid you can borrow under these programs is between $3,500 and $12,500 per year for undergraduate study, depending on your dependency status and college grade level. This table has the full breakdown:
|Loan||Who is eligible?||Annual Limit||Aggregate Limit|
|Direct Subsidized||Undergraduates with demonstrated need||$3,500 for freshmen; $5,500 for upperclassmen||$23,000|
|Direct Unsubsidized||Undergraduates||$5,500 for dependent freshmen; $12,500 for independent upperclassmen||$57,500|
|Direct Unsubsidized for Graduate Students||Graduate and Professional Students||$20,500||$138,500|