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Student Loans

How Much Money Does the FAFSA Give You?

Navigating the financial aid process can feel like a maze. Before you start, your first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The FAFSA is the key to unlocking federal grants, student loans, and work-study funds you can use to cover the costs of college. This form helps colleges tailor a financial aid package to your unique circumstances. 

We’ll explore factors influencing the type and amount of financial aid you can receive. By the end, you’ll have a clearer picture of what to expect and the funding you might be eligible to receive.

How much financial aid can I get? 

Federal aid comes in three types: grants, student loans, and work-study programs.

Type of federal aidWhat it is
GrantsFinancial aid that doesn’t need to be repaid; often based on financial need
Student loansBorrowed money for college or career school that must be repaid with interest; doesn’t require a financial need
Work-study programsPart-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial needs; allow students to earn money to cover education expenses


Grants are money you don’t need to pay back. They’re among the best types of federal aid awarded because they represent “free” money you can use to cover college costs. Grants are need-based, which means they’re only available to students who demonstrate a financial need. 

The maximum Federal Pell Grant amount you can receive for the 2024 – 2025 academic year is $7,395. However, the award amount can change every school year, so even if your financial situation stays the same, the amount you receive may vary. 

Federal student loans

Federal student loans are generally available to all students, regardless of whether they have financial need.

The two types of Direct Stafford Loans are Subsidized and Unsubsidized. The government will pay accrued interest on Subsidized loans, which may be available to students with financial need while students are in school and during periods of deferment, but not on Unsubsidized loans.

Federal student loans typically have low interest rates and other perks for repayment that make them a desirable option for many students.

Each type of federal student loan has its own maximum amount depending on your academic year and dependency status. For example, consider the following limits for undergraduate students who are dependent on their parents (as defined by the FAFSA): 

  • First-year limit: Not to exceed $5,500, with no more than $3,500 being Subsidized.
  • Aggregate loan limit: Not to exceed $31,000, with no more than $23,000 Subsidized.

Two federal loans are designed for graduates and parents of students: Grad PLUS Loans and Parent PLUS Loans. These types of loans have no set limits besides the maximum cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received.

Once you’ve maxed out your scholarships, grants, savings, and federal student loans, you should consider private student loans.

Work-study programs

Federal work-study programs allow students to work at jobs on or off campus and use the money they earn to cover educational or living expenses while attending school.

Work-study programs are flexible, work around class schedules, and are only part-time. They could include tutoring other students, serving or prepping food in the cafeteria, acting as a monitor in the campus computer lab, or a host of other tasks.

In some cases, you could get a work-study job related to your major, leading to an even richer educational experience that also helps pay for itself. Work-study doesn’t have a maximum awarded amount; it depends on the individual student’s situation.

How does the FAFSA determine my financial aid package? 

The FAFSA is your gateway to federal aid for college. Completing it requires detailed financial information from students and their parents, including their income, cash, and household size. This data is crucial for assessing your financial need.

Two essential factors are used in connection with your FAFSA to set your financial aid package: 

  • Student Aid Index (SAI) (formerly Expected Family Contribution [EFC]): Upon submission, the FAFSA calculates your SAI. This figure is vital in determining how much and what type of aid you’re eligible for. It considers your family’s income (taxed and untaxed), assets, and benefits received, such as unemployment or Social Security.
  • Cost of attendance (COA): The COA at your chosen institution also plays a pivotal role. It includes tuition, room and board, books, and other expenses.

The difference between COA and SAI is your financial need, which guides the aid package you’re offered.

Your financial aid package may include a combination of grants, loans, and work-study funds. It is tailored to fill your individual financial needs. The goal is to make education accessible regardless of your financial situation.

Remember, you must complete the FAFSA every year to continue receiving aid. Changes in your financial situation or the cost of attendance at your school can affect your aid package. Stay informed and prepared to adjust your financial planning.

This streamlined process ensures that students from all financial backgrounds can pursue higher education. Understanding how your aid package is calculated empowers you to make informed decisions about your educational future.

How to maximize your financial aid award 

Timing is crucial to maximizing your financial aid. Submit the FAFSA as early as possible after its release (usually October 1). Early applicants have the best chance at more substantial aid because some funds are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

You should also consider taking the following steps: 

  • Check for accuracy: It’s essential to ensure the accuracy and thoroughness of your FAFSA application. Double-check that all information is correct and complete. Errors or omissions can delay processing and cost you valuable aid.
  • Prepare ahead of time: Gather all necessary documents beforehand, including tax returns, W-2 forms, and other income statements. This preparation can make the application process smoother and faster, reducing the chance of mistakes.
  • Evaluate other options: Explore scholarships and grants in addition to FAFSA. These do not need to be repaid and can cut your education costs. Many scholarships have early deadlines, so start your search early.

Consider working with a financial aid counselor or other financial professional who specializes in educational funding strategies. They can provide helpful insights and tips specific to your situation, helping you navigate the complexities of financial aid and uncover additional funding sources.

How to estimate your financial aid award 

Understanding your potential financial aid package is a crucial step in planning for college. The Federal Student Aid Estimator is a valuable tool that offers a glimpse into the aid you might receive. It’s on the Federal Student Aid website, and you can even use it well before applying for college.

After providing basic financial information, you’ll get an estimate of your SAI and the types of federal aid you could get, including grants, loans, and work-study programs. High schoolers and their families, in particular, may find this helpful as they plan for college.

Once you submit your FAFSA and are accepted into a college, you’ll receive your official financial aid offer. This detailed package, usually sent out in the spring, outlines the specific amounts and types of aid you are eligible to receive. 


It’s essential to review your financial aid offer to understand the full scope of what’s being provided.

Applying early and accurately for the FAFSA can have a massive impact on your financial aid package. Much financial aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, highlighting the importance of timely submission. 

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