Financial Aid Eligibility Requirements

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Mark Kantrowitz

By Mark Kantrowitz

June 14, 2019

Applicants for federal student aid must satisfy certain eligibility requirements. Other forms of financial aid have similar eligibility requirements, as well as a few additional restrictions, such as age and state residency requirements.

General Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for federal student aid, the student must satisfy the following requirements:

  • Citizenship. The student must satisfy citizenship requirements for federal student aid, such as being a U.S. Citizen, U.S. National, U.S. Permanent Resident or Eligible Noncitizen.
  • Social Security Number or Alien Registration Number. The FAFSA does a database match with the records of other government agencies to confirm the validity of these identifiers.
  • Selective Service registration. Students who are male, age 18-25, must have registered with the Selective Service System (SSS). They can check a box on the FAFSA to have the FAFSA register them with Selective Service. If a male student is age 26 or older and did not register with Selective Service, the failure to register must not be knowing and willful.


Education-Related Requirements

The student must also satisfy these academic requirements to be eligible for federal student aid.

  • High school diploma or the equivalent. The student must have a high school diploma or GED, or have completed homeschooling according to the state requirements.
  • Eligible program at an eligible college or university. The student must be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program at an eligible college or university that participates in the Title IV federal student aid programs. Students who are enrolled in a dual enrollment program are not considered to be regular students.
  • Statement of educational purpose. The student must agree to use federal student aid funds only for educational purposes. The statement of educational purpose is included as part of the signing statement on the FAFSA.
  • Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). The student must maintain progress consistent with graduating within 150% of the normal timeframe (e.g., within 6 years for a 4-year degree). The student must also maintain at least a C average (2.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale).


Application-Related Requirements

You can’t get aid if you don’t apply. The student must satisfy the following requirements to receive federal student aid.

  • Apply for financial aid. The student must file the FAFSA and complete verification, if selected, to receive federal student aid.

Program-Specific Requirements

To qualify for certain types of financial aid, the student must satisfy these program-specific requirements.

  • Financial need. The student must demonstrate financial need to receive certain types of financial aid, such as the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), Federal Work-Study (FWS) and subsidized loans. Financial need is defined as the difference between the college’s cost of attendance (COA) and the student’s expected family contribution (EFC). There are no explicit income cutoffs on financial aid eligibility, but lower-income students are more likely to qualify for need-based financial aid. Eligibility for the unsubsidized Federal Direct Stafford Loan and the Federal Direct PLUS Loan does not depend on financial need.
  • Enrollment status. The student must be enrolled at least half-time to receive federal education loans. Eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant does not require the student to be enrolled at least half-time, but the amount of the Federal Pell Grant is prorated according to the student’s enrollment status.
  • Credit history. The borrower of a Federal PLUS Loan must not have an adverse credit history. Eligibility for a Federal PLUS Loan does not otherwise depend on the borrower’s credit scores, income thresholds or debt-to-income ratios. Eligibility for a Federal Direct Stafford Loan does not depend on the borrower’s credit history in any way.
  • Prior Bachelor’s degree. If the student already has a Bachelor’s degree, they are not eligible for the Federal Pell Grant, FSEOG, or TEACH Grant. They are still eligible for federal education loans and Federal Work-Study.


How to Lose Eligibility for Financial Aid

There are several ways an otherwise eligible student can lose eligibility for federal student aid.

  • Fail to maintain SAP. If the student’s grades drop below a 2.0 GPA or they are failing too many classes, their eligibility for federal student aid can be suspended until their grades improve.
  • Drug convictions. If the student is convicted of the sale or possession of illegal drugs while receiving federal student aid, their eligibility for federal student aid may be suspended for one or two years or indefinitely, unless they successfully complete a drug rehabilitation program.
  • Incarceration. A student who is currently incarcerated is ineligible for federal student aid. If the student is incarcerated in a federal or state institution, they are also ineligible for the Federal Pell Grant. They might qualify for Federal Work-Study (FWS) or FSEOG, but are unlikely to receive these forms of federal student aid due to the way the funding is prioritized.
  • Loans in default. If a student has federal student loan in default or has failed to return excess loan funds (over the limit) or grant overpayments, the student is ineligible for further federal student aid. The student can regain eligibility by entering into a satisfactory repayment agreement and completing a specified number of payments under that agreement.
  • Fraud involving federal student aid funds. If a student was convicted of a crime involving fraudulently obtaining federal student aid funds (or pled guilty or nolo contendere), the student will be ineligible for federal student aid until the fraudulently obtained federal student aid funds are repaid in full.
  • Judgment lien. If thestudent has a judgment lien on a property in connection with a debt owed to the U.S., the student is ineligible for federal student aid until the debt is paid in full or the student has made satisfactory arrangements to repay the debt.

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