Determining Eligibility


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To apply for federal financial aid to pay for college, you must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The application is free and only needs to be completed once a year. You can use an abbreviated form to reapply for financial aid the following year.

Since the FAFSA is also used by non-federal financial aid sources, the U.S. Department of Education encourages you to complete one even if you do not seek federal financial aid.

The following general requirements exist to determine eligibility to receive federal financial aid. The applicant must:

  • Have graduated from high school or have earned a G.E.D. Consult your school's financial aid office for exceptions to these requirements.
  • Be enrolled as an undergraduate in an eligible program of study.
  • Maintain a level of satisfactory academic progress in a degree-oriented program.
  • Certify that the aid is to pay for educational purposes.
  • Not be in default on any other student loans or owe a refund of prior loans or grants.
  • Must not have been previously incarcerated.
  • Have a Social Security number.
  • Be either a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen.
  • Have registered with the Selective Service, if required.

Your FAFSA must demonstrate financial need in order to receive a Pell grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Perkins loan, subsidized Stafford loan, or Work-Study.

You do not have to demonstrate financial need to receive an unsubsidized Stafford loan, PLUS loan, or federal consolidation loan.

Financial need is the difference between the student's total expected cost of college and amount the applicant is expected to contribute. The contribution amount is calculated using a worksheet and is called the expected family contribution (EFC).

For example, if the total expected cost of college is $60,000 and your expected family contribution is $35,000, you are eligible to receive up to $25,000 in financial aid other than unsubsidized loans. Your school's office of financial aid may have some latitude in adjusting the expected cost of college or the data used to calculate your EFC.

Financial aid applicants fall into one of three categories.

  • Dependent students. Generally, unless a student is over age 23, married, currently in the military, or is a military veteran, the student is considered a dependent for purposes of federal financial aid. For other exceptions to the dependency rule, see the instructions to the FAFSA. For dependent students, the EFC formula is based on assets and income of parents and student.
  • Independent student with no dependent(s) other than a spouse. The expected contribution is based on the married couple's combined assets and income.
  • Independent student with dependent(s) other than a spouse. The expected contribution is based on the married couple's combined assets and income. You may wish to refer to the worksheet used by financial-aid officials at the DOE's Federal Student Aid office to calculate your EFC for the 2020-21 financial aid year.

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