Enter the $2,000 Nitro Scholarship now! Apply in 3 Minutes!

How Much Financial Aid Can You Get per Semester in College?

If you're trying to figure out how to pay for college, you may be wondering how much aid you can get from federal, state, and institutional sources.

While state and school-specific funding can vary greatly, federal aid is pretty uniform. However, it can vary based on your financial need, academic year, enrollment status, and more. Let's talk about the types of federal aid and how much you may be able to expect. 

Federal aid grant limits by type of financial aid

If you qualified for federal grant aid, you will be able to use that money towards your college costs and not have to pay it back. However, the amount of federal grant aid you can get per semester has a maximum limit. 

Additionally, the federal government has provided a few financial aid programs that have different eligibility requirements and different limits. Some of these programs include:

  • Federal Pell Grants

  • Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants

  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants

  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants

Let's discuss the federal grant aid limits for the individual grant programs offered by the U.S. Department of Education.

Federal Pell Grant

The amounts for Pell Grants can change yearly, but the maximum award for the 2022-2023 award year is $6,495. The amount you are actually eligible for will depend on factors such as your financial need, cost of attendance, and student status. It also may be affected by how many classes you enroll in. Students with full-time enrollment generally qualify for a larger grant than part-time or half-time students. 

If you qualify for a Federal Pell Grant Award, your total award for the year will be split between semesters during each school year. For example, if you’re eligible for $3,000, you will receive $1,500 for fall semester and $1,500 for spring semester. 

Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant

The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is awarded to undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. If you qualify, you may be eligible to receive up to $4,000 annually (i.e., for the entire school year).

Funds depend on the availability of the school. Not all schools participate in this program. Check with the financial aid office at your school for more information. 

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants

If you plan on taking coursework that leads to a degree in elementary or secondary education/teaching, you may be eligible for the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant (TEACH).

If you qualify, you have to be willing to teach in a high-need field or school for four years (within eight years of graduating). The maximum award amount is $4,000.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants

You may be eligible for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant if you have a parent or guardian who was a member of the U.S. armed forces and died as a result of performing military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11.

However, you must be ineligible for a federal Pell Grant in order to receive this grant. Plus, you must have been younger than 24 years old or enrolled at least part-time at a college or career school at the time of the parent’s or guardian’s death. The maximum award amount for the 2022-2023 academic year is the same as the Pell Grant: $6,495.

See also: How to Read Your Financial Aid Award Letter

Federal student loan limits by type of loan

Qualifying for federal student loans can be a big help when paying for college. These loans are generally offered at a lower interest rate than private student loans and come with helpful repayment options like income-driven repayment. 

So, if the financial aid package you received from the federal government didn't cover the full cost of your tuition, you can get federal student loans to help offset the cost of your educational expenses. Some of the federal student loans available to you include: 

  • Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans

  • Federal Direct PLUS Loans (for parents)

Let's discuss the differences between these types of loans, including eligible students, the maximum amount you can borrow, and more. 

Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans

If you're eligible, both of these federal loans can help you pay for college.

The government pays your interest on a Direct Subsidized Loan while you’re in school, for the first six months after you leave school, and during a period of deferment. 

If you don’t qualify for a subsidized loan, you may be able to receive funds through a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. But with this loan, the government does not pay your interest. You are responsible for paying the interest during all periods. 

This table includes maximum yearly amounts for each type of loan. You'll see the total for both subsidized and unsubsidized loans. (Information is current as of March 2022.)

  Dependent Students Independent Students
Undergraduate Students
(Year 1)
$5,500 annually — $3,500 limit on subsidized loans $9,500 annually — $3,500 limit on subsidized loans
Undergraduate Students
(Year 2)
$6,500 annually — $4,500 limit on subsidized loans $10,500 annually — $4,500 limit on subsidized loans
Undergraduate Students
(Year 3 and beyond)
$7,500 annually — $5,500 limit on subsidized loans $12,500 annually — $5,500 limit on subsidized loans
Graduate students Not Applicable — All graduate students are considered independent. $20,500 total (all unsubsidized)


Federal Direct PLUS Loans for Parents

Like the name says, this loan is intended for parents to take out on behalf of their child. That is, the loan will be in the parent’s name.

Unlike some of the other loans, there is no fixed dollar amount on a Parent PLUS loan. The maximum you can borrow is the cost of attendance (determined by the school) minus any other financial assistance received. 

How to apply for federal student aid

The application process for federal student aid can be a little confusing. While you don't have to apply for the individual programs, you do need to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This is true for any college you go to — community colleges or a four-year university, public or private

Your financial aid awards and loan amounts will be determined by your financial need, expected family contribution (EFC), and what year of school you're in. Generally, first-year students will get a lower amount of financial aid and second- through fourth-year students will get larger amounts. 

The most important thing you should check after you receive your financial aid package is whether you have grants or loans. Your grants will not have to be paid back after graduation, but you'll need to make loan payments on any federal student loan debt that you acquire.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if I don't receive enough financial aid to cover my school's cost of attendance?

If you don't receive enough financial aid to cover the cost of tuition don't worry! There are still quite a few options to help you secure college funding. 

You can explore federal work-study programs so you can work while you're in school to help offset the cost of tuition. Additionally, you should explore scholarship opportunities in your local community. And don't forget to check out Nitro College's $2,000 Scholarship — no essay required.

Lastly, you can always take out private student loans from a private lender to secure the rest of your college funding. 

Can federal financial aid amounts vary from school to school?

Yes. Federal financial aid amounts are partially based on your school's cost of attendance. However, no matter what the cost of attendance is, you won't be able to receive more than the maximum award amount. 

What is the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loans?

The biggest difference between unsubsidized and subsidized federal student loans is how they accrue interest. Subsidized loans will not accrue interest throughout your schooling period. They will start accruing interest either six months post-graduation or six months after you drop below half-time enrollment.

Unsubsidized loans will accrue interest immediately after disbursement. While you can't select your loan type, you can find the information on your financial aid award package. 

Learn more about college planning with Nitro

Securing funding for college can be incredibly stressful, especially with the rising cost of tuition. No matter if you're still in high school or currently in college, you should know all of your financial aid options so you can make the most of them. 

Nitro is a great resource to find out more information about college planning and how you can secure financial aid. We're here to support you at every step of the way — from college applications to student loan repayment after you graduate. Check out our additional college planning resources and apply for our $2,000 Nitro College Scholarship — no essay required!

About the author