The financial aid awarded based on the FAFSA can be used to pay for the college’s full cost of attendance, which includes tuition and fees. While it is possible for student financial aid to cover full tuition, in practice it will fall short.
For most students, there will not be enough financial aid to cover the full cost of tuition, unless the parents borrow a Federal Parent PLUS loan.
The financial aid will be based on financial need, which is usually less than the cost of attendance.
A full need student, who has a zero EFC, might qualify for enough financial aid to cover the full cost of attendance. However, most full need students will be left with a gap of unmet need.
The financial aid package typically includes loans, except at about six dozen colleges with generous “no loans” financial aid policies. But, no-loans colleges often have a minimum student contribution or summer work expectation that prevents financial aid from covering full demonstrated financial need according to the federal definition of financial need.
Total financial aid is about half of the cost of attendance at all types of colleges and all undergraduate degree levels. This is just among the students receiving financial aid.
About 10% of undergraduate students have enough financial aid to cover the full cost of attendance.
More than a quarter of undergraduate students receive enough grant aid to cover tuition and fees. This is especially true at community colleges, which have lower costs and attract more zero EFC students, where about a third receive enough grant aid to cover tuition and fees. Only about a fifth of students in Bachelor’s degree programs, mostly at public colleges, have enough grants to cover tuition and fees.
Out-of-state students at public colleges are less likely to receive enough grants to cover tuition and fees. Out-of-state students pay higher tuition and fees than in-state students, but they may also receive more financial aid due to the higher cost. However, only about one in six out-of-state students receive enough grants to cover tuition and fees.