In this article:
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) helps determine how much financial aid college students qualify for from the federal government. This aid can come in the form of scholarships, grants, work-study opportunities and federal student loans.
But how much assistance can you get by filling out the FAFSA every year? Here's what you should know.
What Is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)?
The FAFSA is a form that the federal government, colleges and universities, and other organizations use to award financial aid to college students. If you want to receive financial assistance to help pay your tuition and other educational expenses, you'll need to fill out the FAFSA each year before the deadline.
With the FAFSA, you can receive several different types of financial aid, including:
- Scholarships: Many colleges use information from the FAFSA you've submitted to determine if you qualify for certain scholarships. Some private scholarship funds may also use the FAFSA to determine your eligibility. In some cases, you may also need to fill out additional applications. Contact your school's financial aid office or the organization issuing a scholarship you're interested in to get more information about what's required of you.
- Federal Pell Grant: Pell Grants are available to undergraduate students who exhibit financial need. The grant is awarded to everyone who is eligible.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): Another grant for students with financial need, FSEOG funds are provided to schools, which distribute them until they're gone.
- Direct loans: Most students who fill out the FAFSA are eligible for student loans through the Department of Education, also sometimes called Stafford loans. Based on the financial information entered on the form, you may have enough financial need to qualify for subsidized loans. With subsidized loans, the federal government pays the interest that accrues while you're in school, as well as during future deferments. The other broad type of direct loan is an unsubsidized loan, which doesn't have the same benefit.
- Federal work-study programs: Work-study allows you to get a job on or near your college campus to help pay for college expenses. Once you receive the funds, you'll find an eligible part-time job within the program and work to earn the money.
What Is the Maximum Amount of Money Available With FAFSA?
The maximum amount of money you can receive in federal financial aid can change from year to year. It also varies by the type of aid you're eligible for. Here's what to expect for the 2021-22 school year:
|FAFSA Limits for the 2021-22 School Year
|Type of Federal Student Aid
|Maximum Aid Amount
|Federal Pell Grant
|Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
|Direct subsidized loan
|$3,500 for first-year students, $4,500 for second-year students and $5,500 for the third year and beyond
Who's Eligible for FAFSA?
Most college students are eligible to receive federal financial aid through the FAFSA form. Basic eligibility requirements include:
- You can demonstrate financial need (for most programs).
- You're a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen.
- You have a valid Social Security number (with some exceptions).
- If you're a male, you're registered with Selective Service.
- You're enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program—you must be enrolled at least half-time to be eligible for direct loan program funds.
- You've maintained satisfactory academic progress in college or career school.
- You certify that you're not in default on a federal student loan, you don't owe money on a federal student grant, and you will use federal student aid only for educational purposes.
- You have a high school diploma or a recognized equivalent (such as a GED certificate), you completed a high school education in a homeschool setting approved under state law, or you're in an eligible career pathway program and meeting certain requirements.
If you've lost your eligibility for federal financial aid, you can regain that eligibility, though it might take time.
It's important to note that, unlike with a traditional loan application, filling out and submitting the FAFSA for federal student loans and other financial aid types doesn't affect your credit.
Maximize Other Financial Aid Options Before Borrowing
While federal student loans typically don't require a credit check, they can still impact your credit down the road, especially if you end up with a high balance and unaffordable monthly payments.
As a result, it's a good idea to take the time to pursue other financial aid options, especially scholarships and grants, which you typically don't have to repay like student loans.
In addition to filling out the FAFSA, you can also search for scholarships that are available from your college, as well as from private organizations and state agencies. Use websites like Scholarships.com and Fastweb to search databases of millions of opportunities.
In addition to pursuing work-study jobs, look for other jobs you can find on your own that might pay better. These efforts may not be enough to help you avoid student loan debt altogether, but they can help you get some of the funding you need for school without relying entirely on loans.