Approximately 85 percent of first-time, full-time, degree-seeking undergrad students enrolled in a 4-year degree-granting institution are awarded federal financial aid every year, according to the latest statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The NCES goes on to say that the two major forms of federal financial aid received by this demographic are grants and loans, with some students also qualifying for educational assistance via the government's Pell Grant program.

While this is great news for individuals who are interested in earning their degrees even when they don't have the financial backing to pay this expense all at once, the topic often brings up a few questions. First, what does financial aid cover? And conversely, what expenses cannot be paid with financial aid monies?

The answers to these questions are extremely important because they tell you 1) where you can use the monies you've obtained by financial aid and 2) what additional monies you will need to secure to help you financially as you work toward earning your degree.

With both of these in mind, let's start with what financial aid does cover.

What Does Financial Aid Cover?

When you receive federal financial aid—which is obtained by completing and submitting the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)—a portion of the awarded amount will likely be paid directly to your school of choice. This will cover your tuition and fees, as well as your room and board if you're staying on campus.

That said, financial aid can also be used to help pay your housing fees if you're living off campus. This includes covering your rent or, if you own your own home, it can go toward your mortgage payments.

You can also use financial aid monies for other items necessary for earning your degree. This includes books and supplies. A few items that fall into the "supplies" category include lab equipment, paper and writing utensils, and even a computer.

If you need help paying for transportation to and from classes, financial aid can be used for this as well. For instance, if you plan to use a bus or some other form of public transportation to get to and from campus, financial aid dollars can help pay for your tickets or passes. On the other hand, if you own your own vehicle and will be using it, financial aid can help with its maintenance expenses and gas.

Depending on the amount of financial aid you are eligible to receive, you may have enough left over to help pay for some personal expenses as well. This includes groceries to eat, cleaning supplies, clothing, and more.

What Financial Aid Does Not Cover

Are you looking at all of the things that financial aid covers and wondering what type of college-related expenses might be left? Unfortunately, there are a few you should know about.

For example, one expense that financial aid does not pay for is activity fees. Therefore, if you are planning to join a sorority, fraternity, or other school-based club or organization, the costs associated with this will need to come from a source that is not financial aid.

Financial aid also does not cover non-necessary items that many students tend to enjoy, such as dorm room decorations and season tickets to the school's football games. And if you plan to use financial aid to help support an active social life, think again because these monies are not intended to be used on eating out, going to the club, or other events or gatherings common in a college setting.

Summing It Up

One simple way to identify what financial aid covers and when you cannot use it is to ask yourself this question: Is this expense a want or a need?

If it is a need, then you can likely use your financial aid award to help pay for it. But if it is a want, you should probably look for the money somewhere else.

Have More Financial Aid Questions on Paying for College?

Have more questions about financial aid, like what it is, how you get it, where you can spend it, and so on?

You can find a lot of information on Saint Leo University's Financial Aid web page. Here you'll learn about the different types of financial aid, the financial aid process, military and veteran benefits, and more.

Alternatively, if you'd prefer to ask your question directly, feel free to contact our Student Financial Services team. Student Financial Advisors are available by phones to answer any questions you may have about paying for college. You can even come in person if that works for you better.