More than half of all full-time undergraduate students in the U.S. receive some sort of financial aid. Do you qualify for financial aid? Even if you think you will not qualify, you might in fact be eligible. Take the time to apply, as you may be very surprised by the results. Remember: you can only receive financial aid if you apply for it.
Demonstrate Financial Need
All students must file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) prior to being eligible for any type of financial assistance. To determine whether a student demonstrates a financial need, a standard formula is used that deducts the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) from the cost of education at a particular institution (Cost of attendance EFC = aid eligibility). For your financial aid plan to include federal funding, the total aid cannot exceed your demonstrated need. Some schools will meet 100 percent of your demonstrated need, while others will cover only a fraction.
Eligibility for financial aid is based on several factors. A financial aid administrator at your college or university will help you determine your specific eligibility. How much aid you ultimately receive will be determined by your school's financial aid office and a financial aid analysis conducted by the federal government will determine.
Common qualifications for financial aid include:
- A high school diploma or General Education Development (GED) certificate, or receiving a passing score on a U.S. Department of Education approved examination such as an Ability-to-Benefit (ATB) exam
- A U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen, including registered aliens, political refugees, and residents of certain U.S. Territories
- A valid Social Security Number
- Compliance with the Selective Service Registration (for males)
- Demonstration of financial need
- Acceptance to or enrollment in an eligible associate, bachelor, or graduate degree program
- Satisfactory academic progress while attending school
- Certification that federal student aid will only be used for educational purposes
- Certification that there is no default on a federal student loan or money owed on a federal student grant
To investigate further if a student qualifies for financial aid, the U.S. Department of Education may compare information with various federal agencies. The Social Security Administration will verify citizenship status and Social Security numbers, while the Selective Service System will confirm registration status. Finally, the U.S. Department of Justice investigates to find out whether a student has previously been denied federal student aid due to a drug-related conviction. If you have lost eligibility for financial aid due to a prior drug conviction, you can attempt to redeem your eligibility by passing two unexpected drug tests performed by a drug rehabilitation program approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
If you find out that you are not eligible for federal financial aid, you should still submit the FAFSA, as you might qualify for non-federal aid programs either from your state or any number of private organizations.
If you regain eligibility during a certain academic school year, make sure you let your financial aid administrator know as soon as possible.
Other Eligibility Factors
You may be able to qualify for financial aid based on other factors besides income and employment status. These include:
- Academic performance
- Full- or part-time enrollment
- Excellence in sports or other extracurricular activities
- Career choice
- Previous military service
- Ethnic, religious, or cultural background
A financial aid officer takes into account any special or unusual situations including unemployment, tuition expenses, and medical expenses to adjust your cost of attendance or other related information used to calculate your EFC. If you are under the age of 24, you are still considered a dependent of your parents. In some cases, this can affect your chances of being granted financial aid even if intend to pay for school on your own. A change in your status from dependent to independent can be granted under specific circumstances if accompanied by documentation justifying your legal emancipation.