How to Apply for Federal Student Aid

The following Federal Student Aid Chart provides details on all of the student aid offered through the federal government, including Pell Grants, the Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program, Perkins Loans, Stafford Loans, and PLUS Loans.

Student Aid Program

Type of Aid


Annual Award Limits (2011-12)

Federal Pell Grant

Grant – does not have to be repaid

Need based financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid.  Available almost exclusively to undergraduates.



Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

Grant – does not have to be repaid

Available to undergraduates with exceptional financial need.  Priority is given to Pell Grant recipients and depends on availability at the school.



Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG)

Grant – does not have to be repaid

For undergraduates receiving Pell Grants who are US citizens enrolled full time, in their first or second academic year of study.

First academic year students up to $750;   Second academic year students up to $1,300.


National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant (National SMART Grant)

Grant – does not have to be repaid

For undergraduates receiving Pell Grants who are US citizens, enrolled full time in their third or fourth academic year of an eligible degree program majoring in physical, life, or computer sciences, engineering, technology, math, or a critical need foreign language and have at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA.

Up to $4,000 for each of the third and fourth academic years.

Federal Work Study

Money is earned while attending school

For undergraduate and graduate students; jobs can be on campus or off campus; students are paid at least federal minimum wage.

No annual minimum or maximum awards.

Federal Perkins Loan

Loan – must be repaid

Interest charged on this loan is 5% for both undergraduate and graduate students; payment is owed to the school that made the loan.

$5,500 annual maximum for undergraduate students (lifetime maximum of $27,500); $8,000 maximum for graduate and professional degree students (lifetime maximum of $60,000, which includes Perkins loans taken as an undergrad).

Federal Stafford Loan

Loan – must be repaid

Federal Stafford Loans are for undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree students.  You must be enrolled at least half-time to be eligible for a Federal Stafford Loan.  You must have financial need to qualify for a Subsidized Stafford Loan, which is determined by the information provided on your FAFSA.  The Department of Education will pay the interest that accrues on a Subsidized Stafford Loan while you are enrolled at least half time and during grace and deferment periods.  Financial need is not a requirement for an Unsubsidized Stafford Loan where a borrower is responsible for the interest during the life of the loan.

For Subsidized Stafford Loans, annual award limits range from $3,500 to $8,500, depending on your year in school. Annual award limits range from $5,500 to $20,500 for Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, less any subsidized amounts received for the same period, depending on year in school and dependency status.

Federal PLUS Loans

Loan – must be repaid

Available to parents of dependent undergraduate students (PLUS) and to graduate and professional students (GradPLUS) enrolled at least half-time.  Financial need is not a requirement.  Borrower is responsible for the interest during the life of the loan.

Maximum amount is the Cost of Attendance minus any other financial aid the student receives.

You must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be eligible. The FAFSA is a form that is filled out annually by current and prospective undergraduate and graduate students to determine their eligibility for federal student financial aid. Most colleges and universities use information from the FAFSA to award non-federal aid.

The FAFSA consists of numerous questions regarding your finances, as well as those of your family; these are entered into a formula that determines the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  A number of factors are used in determining the EFC including the family size, income, number in college, and assets (not including retirement and 401K). This information is required because of the expectation that parents will contribute to their child’s education.

Upon completion of the FAFSA, you will be sent a Student Aid Report (SAR). You should review the SAR carefully for any necessary corrections. An electronic version of the SAR (called an ISIR) is sent to the school you select on the FAFSA. The ISIR is also sent to state agencies that award state need-based aid. Schools may award aid on a first-come, first-served basis, and it is strongly recommended that you fill out the FAFSA as early as possible after January 1st each year for consideration for maximum financial assistance.

To begin, get a Federal Student Aid PIN to apply, sign and make corrections to your FAFSA. Apply for your PIN at the Department of Education’s website. Remember, the first F in FAFSA stands for FREE, and as such, both the FAFSA site and the FAFSA itself do not cost you anything to complete – don’t let any websites tell you otherwise.