Federal Financial Aid: Who Is Eligible?
In order to qualify for federal financial aid programs, you must meet certain requirements set by the U.S. Department of Education. According to the Guide to Federal Student Aid, these requirements focus on academic performance and legal qualifications.
You'll be asked to confirm that you meet these requirements, and sometimes provide proof, on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.
Federal Financial Aid Eligibility - Academic Requirements
To be eligible for federal financial aid, you must be qualified to enroll in postsecondary education by one of the three following ways. You must:
- Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) Certificate
- Pass an approved ability-to-benefit (ATB) test. If you don't have a diploma or GED, you can take an approved ability-to-benefit test to determine whether you can benefit from the education offered at that school
- Complete a high school education in a home school setting approved under state law
- You must be enrolled or accepted for enrollment and working toward a degree or certificate in an eligible program.
- You must meet satisfactory academic progress standards set by the postsecondary school you are or will be attending.
- You might be able to receive federal financial aid for correspondence or telecommunications courses as long as they are part of a recognized certificate or degree program.
Federal Financial Aid Eligibility - Legal Requirements
You must be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen.
You must have a valid Social Security number (SSN), unless you're from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau.
You must certify that you will use student federal financial aid only for educational purposes. You must also certify that you are not in default on a federal student loan and do not owe money on a federal student grant (which could happen if you withdraw from school, for example). You certify these items when you apply for student federal financial aid and sign a promissory note to obtain these funds.
You must comply with Selective Service Registration. If you're a male, aged 18 through 25, and have not registered, you can give the Selective Service System permission to use your FAFSA to register you.
Generally, if you have been convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving student federal financial aid, you may be ineligible for a period of time based on the type and number of convictions. If you answer "Yes" to this question, it is very important that you complete and submit the FAFSA to determine your eligibility. You'll find a worksheet online to help you figure out whether your conviction affects your eligibility.
If you need help or have any questions on how to answer Question 31, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). Every customer service person we've talked to there has been friendly and knowledgeable.
Even if you're ineligible for student federal financial aid because of a drug conviction, you should still complete the FAFSA because most schools, states, and private organizations use your FAFSA to determine your eligibility for other types of need-based and combination need-based/merit-based aid, including state college grants, school scholarships and grants, and private scholarships.
You have limited eligibility for student federal financial aid while you're incarcerated. Generally, you're only eligible for a Pell Grant and then only if you're NOT incarcerated in a federal or state penal institution.Source: "Funding Education Beyond High School," Guide to Federal Student Aid, 2009-2010, U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid.
Research by Carlos Soto, CourseAdvisor Content Editor