One of the first issues that incoming college students and their parents deal with is the issue of federal financial aid. Do I qualify for federal financial aid? How do you receive financial aid? These are fair questions and fortunately, ones that we have answers to.

In the 2018-2019 school year, the federal government handed out $246 billion in total federal financial aidfrom grants, student loans and work study programs. On a per-student basis, the federal college aid handouts breaks down as follows:

  • $15,210 per undergraduate student
  • $28,140 per graduate student

How to Know if You’re Eligible for Federal Financial Aid

With that amount of cash on the line, students and families should take the time to figure out if they’re eligible for financial aid – and how they can remain eligible. 

Let’s take a look and check the exact criteria the federal government applies in handing out financial college aid.

Criteria for receiving federal student financial aid

  • Be a citizen or eligible noncitizen of the United States
  • Have a valid Social Security Number
  • Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate, or have completed homeschooling
  • Be enrolled in an eligible collegiate program as a regular student seeking a degree or certificate
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress
  • Not owe a refund on a federal student grant or be in default on a federal student loan
  • Register (or already be registered) with the Selective Service System, if you are a male and not currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Not have a conviction for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid (such as grants, work-study or student loans)

The U.S. Department of Education notes that if you do have a conviction listed on your record, you’ll have to complete the Student Aid Eligibility Worksheet to see if you qualify for federal student financial aid or if you’re partially eligible for aid.

Additional Financial Aid Eligibility Issues

While the above criteria list covers the basics, there are outliers, exceptions and limits when it comes to a student receiving federal financial aid.

For example, the Department of Education also notes that demonstrating a financial need for federal student aid can open the door to other benefits. That’s especially the case with the Federal Pell Grant or subsidized student loans, where the government covers the loan interest while you are in college. Once you’ve received an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university, you’re not longer eligible for Pell or Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG).

Military families who have suffered a fatality in course of active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, likely qualify for additional federal grant aid (Federal Pell Grant) or for more unique and specific Afghanistan and Iraq Grant.

Non-citizens living in the U.S. under green card or permanent resident alien provisions may also qualify for federal student loan aid, as long as the student and/or family meets the basic eligibility requirements listed above.

If you’re unsure if you qualify for any federal student financial aid program, contact your school’s financial aid office for more specific aid eligibility questions based on your unique household situation.

Estimating Your Potential Federal Student Financial Aid

The U.S. Department of Education, via its Free Application for Federal Student Aid website, offers a useful tool for determining the potential amount of your federal student aid – before you fill out any FAFSA forms.

It’s called the FAFSA4caster, an early estimate of an incoming college student’s federal financial amount.

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