The factors are pretty basic --- total family income, assets ( home , property, vacation home, bank accounts, business, students accounts, outstanding debts ( home mortgage, other children in college , parents in college,), cost of the schools the student has applied to attend and medical expenses not covered by insurance. The result is EFC which means expected family contribution on a yearly basis. For example, if the EFC was $ 10,000 and the cost of attending East Mars University was $10,000 the student will be eligible for zero need based aid because the EFC and the actual cost are the same. If, however, the student were to attend Northern Lights University where the total cost to attend is $50,000 the student could be eligible for $40,000 in aid because of the difference in the EFC and the actual cost. Merit base aid ( based on grade point average , rank in class and SAT or ACT scores) can make a difference. Always talk with any financial officer at any college / university well ahead of time and attend your high school's financial aid night ( my suggestion is start going in your son/ daughter's sophomore year )-- you can never hear the terms ,deadlines, methods and materials you will need to often. I hope this helps.