The U.S. Department of Education provides more than $150 billion each year in grants, loans and work-study opportunities to help eligible students pay for college. To take advantage of these programs, you’ll first need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Both the government and individual schools use the information from your FAFSA to determine your eligibility for financial aid.

Who can apply for federal financial aid?

Everyone is eligible to apply for federal financial aid. To do so, you must complete the FAFSA. The information on your FAFSA is shared with the colleges you list on your application, your state’s higher education agency and the state agencies associated with your selected colleges. When a college accepts you, you will receive a letter detailing the federal financial aid you qualify for.

How to qualify for federal financial aid.

Personal and financial information from your FAFSA will determine what types of federal aid you can receive. Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is one of the main factors in determining your eligibility. This is the estimated amount you and your family can afford to pay for college each year. 

Males between 18 and 25 must register with Selective Service before they can qualify to receive federal financial aid. If you haven’t registered already, you can do so by simply checking the appropriate box when you fill out the FAFSA.

After submitting, some applicants may be selected for “Federal Verification,” a routine check to make sure their FAFSA information is accurate. If a school asks you to complete this process, it doesn’t mean you did something wrong – about one-third of applicants are asked to verify their FAFSA. Verification simply means you’ll need to submit some additional documents to ensure your financial aid application goes through.

Reasons you may not qualify for federal financial aid.

Certain financial aid requirements may disqualify some people from federal aid. Factors that could prevent you from receiving federal grants or student loans include:

  • Income: A higher EFC may disqualify you from need-based aid such as Federal Pell Grants or subsidized loans.
  • Course of study: Not all degree or certificate programs can receive federal aid. For example, you can’t get federal financial aid for certain noncredit classes or to attend a nonaccredited school.
  • Academic progress: Falling below a certain GPA may disqualify you from financial aid. Also, changing your enrollment from full- to part-time may cause the loss of aid.
  • Criminal background: Being incarcerated or being convicted of a drug offense will affect your eligibility.
  • Defaulting on a student loan: You can’t receive additional federal aid if you’re currently in default on a federal student loan.
  • Loss of eligible noncitizen status: To keep receiving federal aid, noncitizens must resolve any residency issues with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

What if I don't qualify for federal financial aid?

Grants and loans from the federal government aren’t the only options when it comes to making college more affordable. Other funding sources include:

  • Scholarships: You may qualify for merit-based gift aid from a school or outside organization, such as a religious or professional group.
  • State grants: To take advantage of grant opportunities from your state, you’ll need to complete a separate application in addition to the FAFSA.
  • Private loans: If you need additional funds to make college attainable, consider private financing. To see how a private loan can help close your tuition gap, compare the terms of these recommended lenders.
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