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    What Is the Maximum Income to Qualify for Financial Aid?

    By Will Geiger

    Will Geiger is the co-founder of Scholarships360 and has a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. He is a former Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College where he personally reviewed 10,000 admissions applications and essays. Will also managed the Kenyon College merit scholarship program and served on the financial aid appeals committee. He has also worked as an Associate Director of College Counseling at a high school in New Haven, Connecticut. Will earned his master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania and received his undergraduate degree in history from Wake Forest University.

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    and Cait Williams

    Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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    Reviewed by Annie Trout

    Annie has spent the past 18+ years educating students about college admissions opportunities and coaching them through building a financial aid package. She has worked in college access and college admissions for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission/Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, Middle Tennessee State University, and Austin Peay State University.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: April 18th, 2024
    What Is the Maximum Income to Qualify for Financial Aid?

    Many students and parents ask the question “What is the maximum income that I can have to still qualify for financial aid?” This is an important question because many families think that their income is too high to qualify for financial aid. Let us reassure you, there is no magical income cutoff to qualify for financial aid! So, when in doubt, apply!

    In this post, we’ll be talking about:

    Keep on reading to learn more about why you should apply for financial aid no matter what your family income is.

    How financial aid is calculated

    The major reason that there is no income limit to apply for financial aid is because financial aid is very complex. Every college will calculate financial aid according to their own unique formula. That means that you can expect a different financial aid package from every college that accepts you.

    Colleges will be analyzing your family’s financial situation through applications like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the CSS Profile. Financial aid formulas include many other data points in addition to income. These may include: 

    • Family size
    • The number of people in college in your household
    • Assets
    • Student income and student assets

    These data points will help the financial aid officers determine your Student Aid Index (SAI), which is the amount of money that the college estimates your family can afford to pay for college.

    Net Price Calculator

    If you are a student who is wondering about how much financial aid you can expect from a particular college, you are in luck. The Net Price Calculator (NPC) is a tool that estimates a potential financial aid package that is based on your family’s financial situation. This will allow you to easily compare the cost of a variety of colleges and universities.

    There are a few limitations to the Net Price Calculator that we should mention:

    • The Net Price Calculator only provides an estimate of financial aid. Students will need to wait until they are accepted to receive their official financial aid award letter.
    • Some NPCs only include need-based financial aid and will not share information about college-specific scholarships. However, some colleges do ask questions about GPA and test scores to give you an idea of how much money you can expect to receive in merit scholarships.
    • The NPC won’t consider any private scholarships that you might win, so you will have to factor these awards in separately.

    So, while not 100% accurate, the Net Price Calculator is a great start for students and parents looking for a ballpark financial aid estimate. Overall, this is a great tool to assess how your family income will impact financial aid at any college or university.

    Major types of financial aid

    When completing the Net Price calculator or applying for financial aid, you will be considered for three major types of financial aid. These three types of aid include:

    1. Need-based grants that are based on demonstrated financial need. These need-based grants can include the Pell Grant and Federal SEOG Grant.
    2. Student loans provided by the federal government or private financial firms that do need to be repaid. This includes Federal Direct Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans from the federal government.
    3. Merit scholarships that are based on talents and academic achievement.

    Of the three major types of financial aid, only need-based grants and certain student loans will be impacted by financial need and your family income. Your family’s financial circumstances do not affect your eligibility for merit scholarships.

    This means that even if you don’t qualify for need-based financial aid because of your family income or other factors, you will still be eligible for merit scholarships.

    Why you should apply for financial aid (even if you won’t qualify)

    When in doubt, you should always apply for financial aid. The worst case scenario is that you simply don’t qualify for financial aid. Here are a few reasons why you should apply for financial aid:

    Ensure that you can apply for financial aid in future years

    Some colleges have a policy that prevents students from applying for financial aid if they do not apply as a first-year. This means that you could end up in a difficult situation if your family situation changes. For example, your family financial situation could change rapidly if one of your parents loses their job, unforeseen medical expenses occur, or a sibling enters college.

    You may miss out on federal student loans

    You may miss out on certain federal student loans that have more favorable interest rates and repayment options.

    The bottom line with this is that you can’t predict the future. Your financial situation can change and may even change over the course of your senior year in high school. Applying for financial aid adds an additional layer of security to your college financial planning. And if your financial aid is not enough, there are always options!

    Does it ever make sense to not apply for financial aid?

    If you have made it this far, you know that we are big proponents of applying for financial aid. In cases where a family is able to comfortably pay for the full cost of attendance without any concerns, students may not feel the need to apply for financial aid. Perhaps if your family is donating a building or making a major donation to the school, you probably are not worried about financial aid. However, one never knows what the future holds, so our advice applies no matter what your circumstances are!

    Next Steps

    Next Steps

    • Even if you are in an unusually safe financial position, you should absolutely complete and submit the FAFSA (things can change, so better safe than sorry)
    • Some colleges require the CSS Profile as part of the financial aid process, so you will need to submit the CSS profile to any colleges that require it
    • Don’t forget that you will need to reapply for financial aid each year that you are in school

    Frequently asked questions about the maximum income needed to qualify for financial aid

    How much salary is too much for financial aid?

    The financial aid you receive is calculated based on a complex set of factors. There is much more considered in your aid award than just how much your parents make. So, you should always apply for financial aid if you can as there’s no harm in applying and receiving nothing.

    Does FAFSA actually check income?

    FAFSA does not check each of your individual bank accounts to verify the amount of money you have. However, they may ask you to verify your bank account or income through other documents, such as tax returns or other documentation from your employer. You should always be one hundred percent honest when it comes to filling out the FAFSA. Not only is it the right thing to do, but you may be selected for FAFSA verification of bank accounts.

    What disqualifies you from FAFSA?

    Things that can disqualify you from being eligible for the FAFSA are mostly in regard to your criminal history. As of July 1, 2023, drug convictions no longer no longer affect FAFSA eligibility. Some arrests, misdemeanors, or other serious crimes can impact your eligibility for aid. Even if you have some of these things in your past, you can still apply for aid and see what happens.

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