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If you’re looking to get an idea of how much federal aid you can expect, the Federal Student Aid Estimator is your one-stop shop. But if you’re looking to get an estimate of your entire financial aid package, including state- and institution-based aid and scholarships, then it’s just the first stop in a longer journey.
» MORE: Your guide to financial aid
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Here’s what you should know about the tool — and what to do after you get your results:
How the Federal Student Aid Estimator works
The Federal Student Aid Estimator — formerly known as the FAFSA4caster — is a free tool from the U.S. Department of Education that provides an early estimate of your federal student aid eligibility. Like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, the estimator analyzes your household income and assets to determine your expected family contribution or EFC.
» MORE: What is financial aid?
You can use estimates for those amounts, but the more specific information you can provide, the more accurate your results will be.
Your aid estimate will include funding through federal direct loans, federal work-study and Pell Grants if you’re eligible for them. You can also add other grants and scholarships as well as a Parent PLUS loan to get a more complete picture of your projected student aid.
How to use the Federal Student Aid Estimator
Step 1: Input your information
On the first page of the tool, you’ll be asked for basic personal and financial information including:
Grade level when you begin college.
There will also be questions about dependents, the age of your primary parent, household size and your "asset net worth," which automatically populates and is estimated based on income. If you have bank statements and investment information on hand, though, you can update that figure and get more accurate results.
Step 2: See possible financial aid
On the next page, you’ll see your projected Pell Grant award and the national average award amount for work-study funds, as well as your maximum direct loan amounts. Loan amounts will include both subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
» MORE: How to get a student loan
Understanding your results
On the estimated results page, you’ll see four things:
Your estimated EFC.
An explanation of how your EFC affects federal aid available to you.
The need-based aid you're eligible for, including grants, federal work-study and direct loans.
Your overall total estimated federal aid.
The estimator is a fairly accurate predictor of federal aid that's based on your EFC, like Pell Grants. But it has its limitations.
The tool doesn't account for institution- or state-based aid, for example. And, as noted earlier, the tool uses the national average for the amount of work-study funds, but the actual amount you receive could be higher or lower.
It’s best to take the estimator's results with a grain of salt and remember that it’s just one of the tools at your disposal.
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