Why Didn’t I Get Financial Aid?

Abigail Eun
Abigail Eun

Abigail Eun is a freelance writer and personal finance expert. Through diligent research and continuous learning, she has honed her knowledge in budgeting, saving, investing, and debt management. Abigail is passionate about helping people get their finances in order. She believes that everyone should have access to the information they need to make sound financial decisions. Her goal is to provide clear and concise information that is easy to understand.

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Daniel Kahn
Daniel Kahn
Daniel is the co-founder and COO at Sparrow. Daniel is responsible for the day-to-day operations of a company, working closely with other members of the executive team to develop and implement strategies to support the growth and success of the company.
Daniel was a 2023 Forbes 30 Under 30 lister in the Education category.  Daniel was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina and graduated from Duke University in 2020.
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Camden Ford
Camden Ford

Camden leads Sparrow’s business operations – everything from product management to business analytics. After graduating Cum Laude from Duke University where he studied Civil Engineering, Camden worked as a Consultant for A.T. Kearney where he worked in their Strategic Operations practice. With a strong background in analytics, Camden strives to deliver data-driven conclusions and insights.

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November 13, 2023

Financial aid can come in a variety of forms, such as scholarships, grants, and even student loans. On average, full-time undergraduate students receive roughly $14,800 of financial aid each year.1 So, if you submitted the FAFSA and didn’t receive any financial aid, it may have come as a surprise. 

What are some reasons you might not have received any financial aid?

Here are seven possible reasons why. 

7 Reasons Why You Might Have Not Received Financial Aid

#1: You Didn’t Submit Your FAFSA

The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, must be filled out and submitted in order to receive federal student aid, such as work-study, loans, and grants. Even some scholarship and grant programs, such as your university’s, require you to have submitted the FAFSA to be considered for aid.

In the 2020-21 academic year, only 68% of students submitted the FAFSA, which is an extremely alarming statistic given that the FAFSA is the gateway to $150 billion in federal student aid. 

Generally, almost all schools in the United States require you to submit the FAFSA by the deadline that your school sets, though the FAFSA filing deadline is June 30th and the opening date is October 1st. 

If you did not submit the FAFSA on time, you cannot submit it late and must wait until the next application cycle. 

Completing the FAFSA in a timely manner is extremely important, even if you might think you won’t qualify for any financial aid. Charlie Javice, the CEO of an online platform that helps students submit the FAFSA called Frank, states, “[Being too rich to get aid] only applies to less than 5% of the U.S. population. Everyone should be doing it.”

#2: You Submitted the FAFSA Late

Time is of the essence when it comes to submitting the FAFSA. Federal financial aid is awarded based on a first-come, first-served basis. 

The later you submit your application, the slimmer your chances of receiving a substantial amount of aid, or even aid in general because aid is awarded based on the line up of applications. 

If you do not submit the FAFSA by June 30th, you are not eligible for federal financial aid for that year and must wait until the next application cycle. 

Do not forget to submit the FAFSA as soon as possible. 

#3: You’ve Reached Your Financial Aid Limit

Certain grants and loans have maximum borrowing limits. 

If you’ve previously received financial aid but did not receive any additional aid, you may have maxed out the aggregate or cumulative limit of the aid you’ve already received. 

For example, the amount of Federal Pell Grant aid you can receive is limited to six years of Pell Grant funding. You are eligible to receive 100% of your Federal Pell Grant award per year, for a total award of 600% over a six-year period. 

Your Lifetime Eligibility Used (LEU) is what measures how much of your Pell Grant award you’ve used. 

For example, let’s say that you receive a scheduled Pell Grant award of $2,250 in your first year of college. Your scheduled Pell Grant award is the maximum amount of money you can receive for that award year

If you decide to enroll for only one semester during your first year of college, the Pell Grant amount that you receive, or actually use, changes. You would receive 50% of your scheduled Pell Grant, which is $1,125. Your LEU is now 50%, meaning you’ve used 50/600 of your total Pell Grant award. 

However, if you had decided to enroll full-time in the fall, spring, and summer, your received Pell Grant award would have been $3,375, which is 150% of your Pell Grant award for that award year. Your LEU would have been 150%, and you would have used 150/600 of your total Pell Grant award.

Let’s look at the chart below to see how LEU and Pell Grant awards work in hypothetical real-life situations. 

Source: Federal Student Aid Website

We can see that Student A used 400% out of their 600% Pell grant awards by the end of Year 4. Therefore, Student A has 200% of their Pell Grant award left to spend for any further education. Student B used 375% of their Pell Grant award, so Student B has 225% of their Pell Grant award left. Student C used 350% of their Pell Grant award, so Student C has 250% of their Pell Grant award left. 

Aggregate limits also apply to certain federal loans. For example, the federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan has an aggregate loan limit of $31,000 for dependent undergraduate students. This means that dependent undergraduate students can only borrow up to $31,000 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans over the entire course of their college career.

As we can see from the table below, a dependent undergraduate student borrows a total of $27,000 for the first four years of their education through the Direct Unsubsidized Loan. The aggregate limit for the Direct Unsubsidized Loan is $31,000, so the student can only borrow $4,000 in their fifth year of education. 

Source: Edvisors

If you’ve exceeded the annual limit or aggregate limit for any federal grants or loans, you cannot receive any more financial awards from the specific programs. 

Look into the aid you’ve already received and the amount you’ve put towards your college costs to determine whether or not you have reached the limit for federal grants and loans. 

#4: You are Defaulted on a Federal Student Loan

You are defaulted on a federal student loan if you’ve missed your scheduled loan payments for more than 9 months, which is around 270 days. 

If you are defaulted on a federal student loan, you cannot receive any additional federal student aid, even if you submit your FAFSA. You are also ineligible for benefits like loan forgiveness, repayment plans, and deferment (or temporarily stopping payments for a student loan).

Defaulted federal student loans cannot be forgiven, meaning they cannot be canceled and still must be paid off.

Contact your federal loan servicer as soon as possible to discuss options like loan rehabilitation (the process of un-defaulting a student loan by meeting specified repayment requirements) or loan consolidation (the act of consolidating all federal student loans into one big loan with a singular interest rate and repayment plan). 

If you are defaulted on a federal student loan, you will miss out on any federal financial aid until the loan is paid off. In order to be an eligible student to receive federal student aid again, you must pay your loans back. 

#5: You Did Not Meet the Income Threshold for Need-Based Aid 

The information you provide on the FAFSA determines how much federal student aid you will receive. Information such as your expected family contribution (how much your family can pay based on a federal standard calculation), your school year, and the cost of tuition for your school is used to determine your level of financial need  

Your expected family contribution, or EFC, is calculated based on the income and assets of the family, including both liquid and illiquid assets. Assets are resources that can produce positive economic value, like cash, real estate, and stock holdings. Liquid assets are assets that can be quickly sold without a significant loss in value, like the money in your bank account or stocks. Illiquid assets are assets that lose significant value when they are quickly sold, like cars and real estate. 

One common misconception about financial aid is how assets are factored into how your financial aid is determined. If your family has a low income but a lot of assets, you can still be disqualified for federal aid. The same applies if you have a small amount of assets and a high income. 

#6: You Did Not Meet the Eligibility Criteria for Merit-Based Aid

Your academic standing comes into consideration when determining whether or not you are eligible to receive any federal student aid. 

You must be making Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), which is measured by having at least a 2.0 GPA on a 4.0 Scale (generally, a C-average) and passing enough classes to make progress towards earning a degree. 

If you do not make SAP, you are disqualified from receiving federal student aid.

#7: You Are Not a U.S. Citizen

Only United States citizens or permanent residents with a green card are eligible for federal financial aid. While there are private financial aid offerings, such as scholarships, that do provide money for non-U.S. citizens, they are less common.

If you are a student under DACA or a non-citizen, you unfortunately cannot receive federal financial aid and may be ineligible for some other financial aid.

What to Do If You Didn’t Receive Financial Aid

If you haven’t received any federal financial aid, don’t fret. Consider taking the following steps to remedy your situation. 

Submit An Appeal if Your Circumstances Have Changed 

The office of Federal Student Aid offers an option to appeal your financial aid package if your circumstances have changed and fall under the following categories: Special Circumstances and Unusual Circumstances.

The process of appealing your financial aid package is called special circumstances review or professional judgment review

Unusual circumstances involve your dependency status, while special circumstances involve unexpected changes within your family. 

Special CircumstancesUnusual Circumstances
A family member loses his or her jobBoth parents/guardians are incarcerated
Unexpected health costsThere are Protection from Abuse orders at hand
A family member experiences salary reductionThe student is emancipated or estranged from the family 
A family member dies or becomes incarcerated, institutionalized, or disabledThe student is abandoned

If you believe you fall under Special or Unusual Circumstances, make sure to appeal your financial aid package. According to Sallie Mae, 71% of financial aid package appeals were approved. 

Steps to Take When Submitting a FAFSA Appeal

  1. Time is of the essence. If you’ve just received your financial aid package and you are not satisfied with it, determine whether or not you fall under Special Circumstances or Unusual Circumstances in a timely manner so that your chances of being approved increase.
  2. Write a short summary of the special circumstances regarding your appeal and provide clear documentation for your claim.
  3. Contact your institution’s financial aid office and send over the necessary materials accordingly. 

Apply for Scholarships

Over 1.7 million2 scholarships are awarded annually, making $24 billion available to college students every year. 

Explore your scholarship opportunities and apply to as many scholarships as you can. It’s a great way to earn free money to pay for your educational expenses.

Because scholarships are a form of gift aid, scholarship money does not need to be paid back and does not accrue interest like student loans. 

As a student, there are countless state scholarships (scholarships sponsored by the state you are from or where your school is located), private scholarships (scholarships offered by agencies, businesses, non-profits, or other organizations), and institutional scholarships (school-specific or major-specific scholarships) that you can apply for. 

Here are our favorite search engines to find scholarships.

Sallie Mae’s Scholarship Search Tool

Sallie Mae is a private student loan company that offers a free Scholarship Search tool for undergraduate and graduate students. Make a profile to find scholarships based on your skills, field of study, and interests.


Bold is the holy grail website for finding scholarships. Offering exclusive scholarships for high school students, college students, and graduates, you can find scholarships based on your experiences, skills, and field of study. 


Scholarships.com is a database for scholarships that is organized based off of everything from major, to SAT score, to residency. It’s a great place to find scholarships as you can create a free profile, find scholarships that are relevant to you, and also obtain assistance in paying tuition. 

Consider Private Student Loans

After you’ve exhausted yourself in applying to as many scholarships that is humanly possible, consider applying for a student loan

Applying to student loans might seem daunting at first, whether you’re a rookie who doesn’t know where to look or a seasoned borrower who is dreading the lengthy process of searching for the most favorable loan.

Sparrow can help with that. 

By submitting a free application with us today, we’ll help you:

  • Explore loan options from 15+ premier private lenders.
  • Find affordable loan options with the best interest rates you can get. 

Closing Thoughts From The Nest

If you fall under any of the seven reasons why you might not have received any federal financial aid, make sure to take the necessary steps accordingly. 

Remember that your financial aid options are still plenty! You can apply for scholarships, explore a list of lenders with Sparrow, or even dispute your financial aid award. 

Whatever you choose to do, know that we are here to help you in every step of the journey!

1College Board.

2Education Data.

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