Does Financial Aid Cover All 4 Years?

When you go to your dream college’s website and go to the tuition page and see how much a semester costs… your gut sinks. Students sometimes forget how expensive college is, and need some help. Most graduated high-school students plan for a four-year college experience, and financial aid is their best friend, best chance, and best hope to have the best time of their lives.

Financial aid can cover four years of college if you file for the FAFSA each year and remain eligible. Eligibility includes agreeing that you are a U.S. citizen or national, providing your social security number, and meeting requirements. Financial aid can come in many forms, such as grants and scholarships.

You need to fill out the FAFSA every year in order to get financial aid because every year your financial situation changes, and they want to make sure that you are eligible. As long as you remain eligible for the 4 years, financial aid will cover for you during college.


A lot of people might wonder how to stay eligible for financial aid while they are participating in college because nobody wants to accidentally be no longer eligible. To summarize the requirements of eligibility here is a short list: (click here for more information by the FSA).

  • Be a citizen of the U.S. or U.S. national
  • Have a valid Social Security number
  • Sign a certificate that states that you will be honest when using the Federal Aid for school tuition
  • Prove that you can participate in College or a career school
  • Your high school diploma
  • Have and maintain good grades in college

There are other requirements for eligibility and different ones with people in different situations. For example, if you are an eligible noncitizen, you would have to specify if you are a refugee, a human trafficking victim, a parolee, and a few others.

With these certain eligible noncitizens, there are certain records you have to hold, and which are explained in more detail here.

Financial aid has so many factors that play into how much aid you receive, and this all can be based on…

  • The state you live in/going to collage for,
  • Federal guidelines,
  • Institutional guidelines, and
  • Family expectancy contribution.

Types of Financial Aid

Paying for college does take work. You might have to get a job and save up money during the off-track semesters of college, or during the summer after graduation. Besides a job, there are grants and scholarships you can apply for.

There are two types of aid:

  • Merit-based aid
  • Need-based aid

Merit-based aid is not based on your personal financial need. These are awarded by institutions, colleges, and organizations that give you money for recognition of your talents or high academic success.

Need-based aid is exactly as it sounds. This is used by determining the family’s ability to pay for college and uses the FAFSA to calculate that.

Grants are given out and based on a family’s expected contribution. Most grants are need-based, but there are a few merit-based grants.

Once you do receive a grant, you do not have to repay it, unless you don’t keep the terms. These can be found at your choice of college, schools, organizations that are private and non-profit.

Scholarships, like grants, are full of free money that does not need to be repaid unless you do not keep the terms of the scholarship. These can be found all over the internet, and you can get one easily if you search deep enough.

These tend to be merit-based and can focus more on people who have different lifestyles, like children who have parents in the military. They can also be about specific talents a person has, or what someone might be studying.

This author knew a person who received a scholarship for being left-hand dominant. There are a lot of different and weird scholarships out there, but they can be found, and you can receive that money.

Work-study is another program that can be used to be able to pay for schooling and tuition part-time. You still need to be eligible through FAFSA in order to participate in work-study, but if you are, you can be paid in order to pay for school whether you are full-time or part-time at college.

Related Article: How Many Hours Should You Work While in College?

Loans are another way to finance college. When you receive a loan, you are borrowing money from the government that you will have to pay back with added interest.

Be careful when considering loans. You must carefully understand the terms and conditions you are agreeing to. There are many different types of loans, such as…

  • Federal student loans
  • Private student loans
  • Direct loans

Depending at what stage of life you are at, the amount you are allowed to borrow will vary. Also, there is a 150% rule when it comes to direct loans. This rule implies that if you extend your college experience to complete your degree in up to six years, you can still receive these loans.

Related Article: How Is a Student Loan Different from a Scholarship?

However, after six years have passed, you are no longer eligible to receive these loans. There is also a limit to how much you are loaned every year, and how much you use. You may end up hitting your limit before the six year time frame is up and be further restricted in eligibility for using any more loans.

Other types of financial aid include aid for military families, including children or a spouse of a military member, and there is another type of aid called International aid. This may be available to students who wish to study outside of the U.S., which can be a school studied abroad, or an international school.


One limit that has been noted is the Federal Pell Grant. This grant is something you can obtain if you are eligible and have applied for FAFSA. You can have that grant for all four years, however, if you have used up all 12 semesters (which is 6 years), or have received your first professional degree, you are no longer eligible for this grant.

Read Also: Fellowship vs Internship: Pros, Cons and Eligibility

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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