Who Is Eligible for Financial Aid?

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Financial aid helps many students offset the high cost of college. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 86% of full-time undergraduate students were awarded financial aid in 2017–18, the most recent academic year for which data is available as of March 2021.

Students who wish to apply for financial aid must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Colleges and universities use FAFSA data to determine whether students are eligible for financial aid from the federal government. Aid can take the form of scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study jobs.

Federal Eligibility Requirements

The only way to find out for sure whether you are eligible to receive any of this assistance is by completing the FAFSA. But there are certain eligibility requirements for federal financial aid:

  • Education: To be eligible for federal aid, the student must have a high school education. This can be accomplished through attendance and graduation from a standard high school, receipt of a GED certificate, or through a home school setting that is approved by the state in which you live.
  • Citizenship: You must be a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen to qualify for financial aid. Your parents’ citizenship or immigration status does not affect your eligibility for financial assistance. 
  • Registration: In most cases, you will need to provide a valid Social Security identification number. Males over 18 must demonstrate that they have registered with Selective Service.
  • Academics: You must be enrolled or accepted as a regular student at a school that offers an eligible degree or certificate program. Once school begins, you will need to make satisfactory academic progress.
  • Income: In general, there must be some type of demonstrated financial need to qualify for certain types of federal financial aid, but there is no income cap. Financial aid comes in many forms and is unique to each situation. Household size, age of parents, and the number of students in college affect aid eligibility, as well as any extenuating financial circumstances.

Even if you think that you will not qualify for any assistance but want to apply for federal student loans, you will still need to complete the FAFSA.

  • Age: There is no age limit for receiving federal student aid.
  • Criminal History: Eligibility for federal student aid may be restricted if you are currently incarcerated, have been convicted of a drug offense, or are subject to involuntary civil commitment for a sexual offense.
  • Sworn Statements: You can sign the FAFSA either as a paper document or through the use of an FSA ID. You will be required to attest to the fact that you are not currently in default on a federal student loan and do not owe any refund on a federal grant that you previously received. The form will require you to state that any federal student aid received will only be used for educational purposes.
  • Race: Federal student aid programs make no distinctions based on race.
  • Field of Study: There is no limitation on the field of study, only that you must be enrolled at a qualifying school.
  • Capability: Students with certain intellectual disabilities may be eligible to receive funding from the Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, and Federal Work-Study programs.

If you are uncertain as to whether any of these qualifying factors apply to you, you can contact Federal Student Aid, the college to which you are applying, or a professional college financial aid advisor. With so many programs and exceptions, it could be well worth the time and dedication to complete the FAFSA in order to determine whether there are any non-federal programs for which you qualify.

Think You Won't Qualify? Apply Anyway

Many students think that they don't qualify for financial aid and because of that, they don't think they should bother to complete the FAFSA. It's important to know that the FAFSA is not just used to determine eligibility for federal student aid, but is also used by states, colleges, student loan lenders, and even some scholarship sponsors.

Key Takeaways

  • Federal financial aid for students includes scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs.
  • According to the most recent data available, 86% of college students were awarded financial aid.
  • Students should fill out the FAFSA to determine their eligibility.