Financial aid is critical to many students’ college prospects, with much of that help coming through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is your ticket to federal grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and loans. Even though many students believe they will not be eligible for financial aid, the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that around 86% of undergraduates receive financial aid – so it’s worth investigating.
What types of financial aid are available?
At the federal level, you may be eligible for many types of assistance, including:
- Scholarships: These are usually merit-based awards, given based on your grades or test scores. The scholarships are free and do not need to be repaid.
- Subsidies : These are based on need. The Pell Grant is one of the most popular federal grants available. Like scholarships, grants are free money and you do not need to repay your scholarship.
- Work study: The federal work-study program allows you to take a job to earn money, but this money is used to pay for education. Jobs vary by industry and location, but they all pay at least minimum wage.
- Student loans: There are several types of federal student loans, some of which are only available to students with financial need and others which are available to everyone. Although you are generally not required to make payments while in school, you will start making payments once you graduate or drop below half-time.
Aside from the federal options available through the FAFSA, you can also find financial aid through private scholarships and grants or private student loans.
Who is eligible for financial assistance?
Most people who apply for federal financial assistance receive it. You are eligible for financial assistance based on:
- Your citizenship. Federal financial assistance is available to U.S. citizens and eligible non-citizens, including U.S. nationals, U.S. permanent residents, or people who have a come-departure record with one of the several names.
- Your degree. You will need to have a high school diploma, GED certificate, or certified home education approved by your state’s law.
- where you are accepted. You must be enrolled or at least accepted to enroll in a qualifying program at a participating college or university.
- Have the right papers. You must have a valid social security number.
- FAFSA completion. You cannot get financial aid without completing the FAFSA.
- Your grades. You must maintain satisfactory academic progress according to your school guidelines.
For non-federal aid, these requirements may be different. For example, many scholarships and loans are available for students who are not US citizens. private companies set their own eligibility criteria and may be more lenient with your enrollment and academic status.
What is the highest income to qualify for financial aid?
There is no income threshold preventing you from receiving federal assistance. Your application, family size, school year, and other factors determine your approval status.
Some forms of assistance are based on your expected family contribution, which uses your parents’ income as part of the calculation. If your family has a high income, you may not qualify for these types of needs-based aid, such as grants or subsidized student loans. However, you can still qualify for unsubsidized federal student loans, and many colleges offer strictly merit-based scholarships.
Can I apply for financial aid without my parents?
You can apply for financial aid as a dependent or independent student. For federal financial aid, you may be considered an independent student if you:
- Be at least 24 years old.
- Are married (or separated but not divorced).
- Are working towards a master’s or doctoral degree.
- Have children or dependents who receive more than half of their support from you.
- Are a veteran.
- Are currently on active duty.
- Were in foster care, court ward or court dependent after age 13.
- Being an emancipated minor or under legal guardianship.
- You are an unaccompanied young person who is homeless or at risk of being homeless.
If you are not one of these, you are considered a dependent student. This means that you must provide your parents’ financial information on your FAFSA. But as an independent student, your parents’ finances are not considered part of your application.
What is stopping you from getting financial aid?
If you don’t complete the FAFSA, you can’t get federal financial aid. For each year you wish to apply for assistance, you will need to complete a new FAFSA form.
If you become incarcerated, you may lose your eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant or Student Loans – except that if you are incarcerated in an institution other than a federal or state institution, you can still get a Pell Fellowship. You can get a Supplemental Federal Education Opportunity Grant or work-study regardless of where you are incarcerated, but the logistics of your situation mean you probably wouldn’t.
You may also be disqualified from receiving federal student aid if your eligible noncitizen status has expired, if you fail to make satisfactory academic progress while in school, or if you are unable to repay your federal student loan.
How to become eligible for financial aid again
There are many circumstances that could have prevented you from receiving financial assistance. For this reason, the way to regain eligibility is different depending on how you lost it:
- Student loan default: If you haven’t repaid your student loans and want to get financial aid again, you’ll need to get out of your student loan default first before you qualify.
- Incarceration: As soon as you get out of incarceration, you get most of your federal student aid eligibility back — except if you’re subject to involuntary civil liability for a sex offense.
- Poor school results: If you haven’t earned enough credits or your academic progress is no longer satisfactory, you can contact your school’s financial aid office to see if you can appeal the decision.
- Status expired: If you were an eligible non-citizen whose status was revoked or expired, you will need to restore that status.
- Ownership privilege: If you have property under a judgment lien showing that you have an unpaid debt to the United States, you will need to pay that debt in full before you can become eligible for financial assistance again.