Understanding Federal Aid Programs

Federal financial aid, or Title IV aid, includes need-based grants that do not typically have to be repaid and low-interest loans that do have to be repaid, as well as Work-Study. Students must complete the Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA) and meet general eligibility requirements in order to be eligible for these programs. Title IV funds may be used for educational experiences abroad.

See the various types of federal grants. View all financial aid videos.

Federal Pell Grants

Federal Pell Grants are typically awarded only to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s degree. Recipients are selected based on financial need determined by the FAFSA Expected Family Contribution  (EFC).  Determination of amounts depend on factors including:

  • Financial need, based on the EFC
  • Cost of attendance
  • Full-time or part-time enrollment

Students may receive the federal Pell Grant for no more than the equivalent of 12 semesters (about six years).

Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG)

Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG) are awarded to students with exceptional financial need as determined by the FAFSA EFC number and who have not earned a bachelor's or graduate degree. Priority is given to Federal Pell Grant recipients. SEOG award amounts are limited to $4,000 per year, and the availability of funding is limited.

Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans

The U.S. Department of Education offers low-interest loans to low-income students to help cover the cost of college. We suggest limiting the amount of loans to the lowest amount you need because loans must be repaid with interest. There are annual and lifetime aggregate limits to loan amounts. Students interested in Direct Loans must complete the Entrance Loan Counseling, as well as a Master Promissory Note, a legal loan agreement in which you agree to pay back borrowed money with interest.

Direct annual loan limits

Direct annual loan limits
Year in school Credit hours Dependent amount ($) Independent or dependent with PLUS denial amount ($)
Freshman 0-29 5,500 9,500
Sophomore 30-59 6,500 10,500
Junior 60-89 7,500 12,500
Senior 90+ 7,500 12,500
Post-Bacc N/A 5,500 12,500

Annual maximums include both subsidized and unsubsidized Direct loans. These limits apply to loans borrowed from August through July. Lifetime loan limits, proration, cost of attendance as well as other factors may keep a student from being eligible for the full annual maximum.

The aggregate, or lifetime, limit is the maximum total amount a student can receive in federal loans.

Aggregate limits are:

  • Dependent undergraduate students: $31,000, of which $23,000 can be subsidized
  • Dependent undergraduate students whose parents have been denied a PLUS loan: $57,500, of which $23,000 can be subsidized
  • Independent undergraduate students: $57,500, of which $23,000 can be subsidized
  • Graduate students: $138,500, of which $65,500 can be subsidized

You may review all loans received through federal loan programs on StudentAid.gov . Columbia College reports any Federal Direct Loans to the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), a U.S. Department of Education database. This information is accessible by authorized users, including guarantor agencies, lenders, and schools.

Columbia College is required to prorate or adjust Direct loan amounts when students have less than a year's worth of courses (24 credit hours) to complete their degree. Columbia College is required to prorate Direct loan amounts when students are graduating in fewer than four 8-week sessions or in one 16-week semester. The Financial Aid Office will calculate an eligible percentage amount for the expected remaining sessions. Students will be notified of any adjustments through CougarMail.

Direct PLUS Loans for parents or graduate students

The U.S. Department of Education offers PLUS loans to graduate students or parents of dependent undergraduate students to cover educational costs. Borrowers must not have an adverse credit history. PLUS loans have higher interest rates than Federal Direct Loans, so it is advisable to apply other sources of financial aid first.

Federal Work-Study

Work-Study provides part-time jobs for students to earn money for college expenses.

Financial aid eligibility for study abroad programs

You may be eligible for Title IV assistance to fund cultural and educational opportunities abroad, depending on your program. Students must be enrolled in classes abroad that can be credited toward a degree program at Columbia College. Study abroad financial aid eligibility will be considered when you submit the FAFSA.


Financial aid puts college within reach

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