How Much Financial Aid Will I Get From FAFSA?

Paying for college is a big undertaking. Although there are many options available, one of the best places to start is by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). But the complicated form will likely leave you wondering, “how much financial aid will I get from the FAFSA?”

When it comes to the average FAFSA aid, 44% of undergraduates receive federal loans for an average of $7,228. Additionally, 42% of undergraduate students receive an average of $4,926 in federal grants.

How much you receive in your financial aid award letter depends on a variety of factors, including your discretionary income and your school’s cost of attendance (COA). Let’s take a closer look at the details around the FAFSA to help you determine the amount of financial aid you can expect to receive.

Average financial aid awards

Each year, 44% of undergraduates receive aid in the form of federal loans for an average of $7,228. Additionally, 42% of undergraduate students receive an average of $4,926 in federal grants.

As a dependent undergraduate student, your parents’ income will affect your financial aid options. But as a graduate student, you will no longer have to report your parents’ income on your FAFSA. With that, it is possible that your award options will increase if you earn less income than your parents.

What is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is a government form that any current or prospective college student in the U.S. should fill out. As you fill out the form, you’ll provide a variety of personal information and financial details about you and your parents. The goal of the form is to determine your eligibility for federal financial aid based on your financial need as a student.

You can, and should, fill out the FAFSA regardless of your student dependency status. For example, the FAFSA is relevant to dependent undergraduate, independent undergraduate, and graduate students.

You’ll need to meet one of the following criteria in order to be considered an independent student:

  • At least 24 years old
  • Married
  • A graduate or professional student
  • A veteran
  • A member of the armed forces
  • An orphan
  • A ward of the court
  • Someone with legal dependents of any kind
  • An emancipated minor
  • A homeless student, or someone that is at risk of becoming homeless

As an independent undergraduate or graduate student filling out the FAFSA you won’t have to include your parental financial information on the form. Under this student status, you might find that you qualify for a different amount of financial aid, compared to your dependent undergraduate counterparts.

How does the FAFSA determine financial aid awards?

Based on an established formula, the FAFSA will ask for a variety of financial details to determine what federal financial aid you qualify for.

The FAFSA starts by determining the cost of attendance at your particular educational institution. The COA includes an estimate of tuition, fees, transportation, housing, food, books, supplies, family size, child care, transportation, and any disability-related costs.

Next, the FAFSA will determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This is perhaps one of the most important factors that impacts your federal student aid award. It considers your family’s taxable income and available assets. The amount of need-based aid you qualify for is the result of your COA minus your EFC.

Students with lower income levels and fewer assets will likely qualify for more financial aid. But students with higher income levels and more assets might qualify for less financial aid. As a dependent student, the income levels of your parents will dramatically affect your ability to qualify for financial aid.

How much financial aid can you get from the FAFSA, maximum?

The exact amount of financial aid will vary based on your unique financial details. Let’s explore the possibilities and common limitations.

Common limits

Once you fill out the FAFSA, the federal government will determine how much aid you are eligible for. Although the figure can vary, there are a few hard financial aid limits to keep in mind. These include:

  • Federal Pell Grant. In the 2021-22 school year, the Pell Grant maximum amount is $6,495.
  • Federal work-study program. The hours you are allowed to work will vary based on your financial details.
  • Direct subsidized or unsubsidized loan. You can’t take out more than $5,500 in your first year as a dependent undergraduate student. That limit increases to $6,500 in your second year and $7,500 in your final college years.

But there is a limit of $23,000 in subsidized loans for your entire college career and $31,000 in total loans, including subsidized and unsubsidized. As an undergraduate student, you’ll likely be able to borrow between $5,500 and $12,500 each year in federal student loans.

Of course, you might not qualify for the maximum amounts, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll qualify for each financial aid type. It’s useful to understand the possibilities, however.


As you consider your options to pay for college, you should absolutely take the time to fill out the FAFSA. Although it’s difficult to determine exactly how much aid you’ll receive in advance, there’s a chance to receive some form of financial aid if you need it. If you’d like a more accurate estimate, check out the FAFSA4caster. With this useful tool, you’ll find an estimate of the financial aid award you might receive before filing your paperwork.

Beyond applying for the FAFSA, consider applying to independent merit- and need-based scholarships and grants. You might be surprised by the wide array of opportunities to pay for school.

If a combination of third-party scholarships and federal aid doesn’t cover the entire cost of your education, then it might be time to consider taking out a private student loan. Weigh this option carefully, however, and find a lender with competitive interest rates and terms to avoid going into high student debt.

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