Is There a Limit on Financial Aid?

Financial aid is always a highly sought after and hot topic for most families when it comes to figuring out how to pay for their child’s college education. Will we qualify for financial aid? How much money will we get, if any? And, is there a limit on the amount of financial aid that we can receive? Well, the answer is, of course there is a limit! Very few things in life are infinite and certainly when it comes to financial aid and paying for college I would say there is DEFINITELY a limit!

Our blog How Much Financial Aid Should I Expect walks you through how financial aid awards are determined, how to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (soon to be named Student Aid Index) and when you will know how much money you are receiving.

As far as the limit on financial aid, that is dependent on what your family’s defined financial need is (per the federal government and each institution), how generous a specific school is as it relates to financial aid, and where your child falls in their applicant pool.

Your Family’s Defined Financial Need

Your family’s defined financial need is based on a calculation either through the federal government, which is calculated when you complete the FAFSA or through the CSS Profile, which approximately 400 schools use to calculate the institutional aid they will award a specific student (both are available 10/1 of the student’s senior year in high school). This is your Expected Family Contribution, a VERY important number since that is what the federal government and/or institution say that you can pay for one year of your child’s college education. Know that once you hear this number you will not jump up and down with joy. Typically, it is much higher than you ever considered to pay for one year of your child’s college education. But this is the basis for them deciding on what they will award your child.

How Generous a Specific School with Financial Aid

Once a school knows what your Expected Family Contribution is, they then take their Cost Of Attendance – COA (the sticker price of their school), subtract out what your Expected Family Contribution is and then they are left with your defined financial need (e.g., $70,000 (COA) – $40,000 (EFC) = $30,000 (Defined Need)). Some schools will cover 100% of your defined need, but not many, and typically that is only from the most selective schools. Other schools cover 70% and some cover 20%, on average. It just depends and it varies by school.

Where Your Child Falls in the Applicant Pool Impacts their Aid Limit

So, on average, a school may cover 70% of a student’s financial need, but if a student is in the lower end of their applicant pool they may only cover 20%, if that. That’s because that student isn’t as desirable as a student who is at the upper end of their applicant pool. In addition, some schools are just more generous than others.

So, as you can see, there is definitely a limit on the amount of financial aid you can receive and how much you receive is also dependent on several factors. You are at the school’s mercy, but know that even after you receive your aid package you can always go back and ask for more. Not that you are guaranteed to receive more, but you will never receive any less than what they awarded to you.

Changes To The FAFSA: Student Aid Index Replaces Expected Family Contribution
How to Fill Out the FAFSA Form
When to File the FAFSA
Common FAFSA Mistakes
FAFSA Does Not Say How Much You Can Pay for College
What Tax Year Is this Year’s FAFSA Based On?
What Is the Deadline for FAFSA?
Can You Apply for Financial Aid After the Deadline?
If My Parents Are Divorced or Separated, Who Fills Out the FAFSA Form?
FAFSA Mistakes You Can Avoid, Which Can Save You Tens of Thousands of Dollars

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone and by email.