Maximize your Aid: Understanding Aggregate Limits

Did you know that there is a lifetime limit to the aid you can receive from the federal government? This includes Federal Pell Grant funds as well as Federal Direct Loans.

Pell Grants

The amount of Federal Pell Grant funds you may receive over your lifetime is limited by federal law to be the equivalent of six years of Pell Grant funding. This can be a little bit of a confusing concept, so we wanted to break it down for you. Think of the Pell Grant as a cake cut into 12 slices. Each semester is once slice. Each semester that you receive Pell, regardless of the amount that you are eligible for, you take away one slice. You can receive Pell for up to 6 years (or 12 slices of cake). Once every piece is gone, you are no longer eligible to receive Pell Grant funds.

This scenario works out evenly if a student is continuously enrolled full time. If a student is less than full time, we wouldn’t always take away a full slice of cake. For someone enrolled half time, we would take away half of a piece of cake, so there would still be some remaining eligibility. This is because Pell is prorated based on credits. So, for example, if a student is eligible for the full Pell Grant, but is only enrolled half time, they will only receive half of the amount they are eligible for during that semester.

For more detailed information on Pell Grant funds, eligibility and lifetime limits, visit

Federal Direct Loans

While there is no time limit to receiving Federal Direct Loans, there is a limit on the amount that students are eligible to borrow from the federal government. Dependent undergraduate students are eligible to receive up to $31,000 in federal direct loans in a lifetime, while the lifetime limit for independent undergraduate students is $57,500. Graduate students have a limit of $138,500 in their lifetime. Students can only borrow up to these limits, then they will need to look into other loan resources.

Additional loan resources include PLUS and Private/Alternative Loan resources. Learn more about additional loan resources here.

To learn more about aggregate loan limits, visit

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