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FAFSA Eligibility: How to Qualify for Federal Student Aid


What are the FAFSA® Eligibility Requirements? 

Many U.S. citizens or eligible non citizens qualify for financial aid to pay for college or career school. One of the basic FAFSA eligibility criteria is unmet financial need.

FAFSA is short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is a standard form used to figure out if a student could qualify to receive federal financial aid. These aid programs offer grants, work study and loans. 

The FAFSA also may be an important step to qualify for some state and school aid. States may have their own form to fill out but tend to use the federal one too. Many schools use it to award scholarships and assess how much financial aid to offer. 

There are eight main FAFSA eligibility requirements that a student must meet. 

Show financial need for most programs 

Need is the cost of attendance (COA) less your expected family contribution (EFC). COA varies from one school and EFC remains the same. 

EFC is a number arrived at using a formula set up by the law and based on family’s taxed and untaxed income. Plus assets and benefits (unemployment or Social Security). A school’s Financial Aid Office relies on the EFC as well. They use it to calculate a student financial aid offer and put it in their Student Aid Report, or SAR. 


Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen. As a rule that is someone who is a legal permanent resident with a green card or a U.S. National. Also, DACA or undocumented students are not eligible for federal student aid. However, you may submit a FAFSA® to receive in state student aid.

Have a valid Social Security Number

Except if you are a student from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau.

Be registered with Selective Service, if you’re a male

You must register between the ages of 18 and 25.


You must have an acceptance letter or are already enrolled for an eligible degree or certificate program. For Direct Loan Program funds, you must be enrolled at least half time to be eligible.

Keep up satisfactory academic progress

These standards differ in each college and career school. The school usually sets policy about what grade point average (GPA) you need to keep up. It typically relates to how many credits one must fulfill each school year and. If a student is progressing within a given time frame to earn their degree/certificate.

Sign the certification statement

It states that you are not default on a federal student loan. You also agree to use the federal student aid only for educational purposes.

Qualify to earn a college degree or career school education

This entails having a high school diploma or GED. If not, then you are on track to complete a high school education in a homeschool setting approved under state law.

What Assets Affect your FAFSA® Eligibility?

According to a Sallie Mae study, 8 out of 10 families, parents may use current income, 529 college savings fund, retirement and other savings/investments. Having these resources and assets tend to lower need for government funds.

To illustrate this point, here are some statistics about grant use as relates to family income. According to a Sallie Mae study, families with the following income received:

  • Less than $35,000 received average grant amounts of $8,634
  • $35,000 to $100,000 received average grant amounts of $4,896
  • $100,000+ received received average grant amounts of $4,698

Can You Lose FAFSA® Eligibility for Financial Aid?

It is possible to lose federal aid if you do not continue to meet basic criteria, do not make satisfactory academic progress and incarceration. In some cases, you may be able to regain FAFSA eligibility.

Basic criteria: E.g. you default on a loan, your green card expires or was revoked. You must get out of default to be able to apply for aid again. If it is a citizenship issue, you must contact Immigration Services.

Satisfactory Academic Progress: This is about making good enough grades, completing enough credit hours and moving towards your degree all in a way that meets your school’s policies. If the school makes a decision, there may be a way to appeal it or speak with them directly.

Incarceration: If you are incarcerated, it may limit your ability to apply for federal student aid. After your release you might be able to apply for aid again. Certain convictions related to illegal drugs, violent/nonviolent sexual offenses may cancel aid completely.

What Federal Student Aid Programs Are You Eligible for?

Each of the federal student aid programs uses the FAFSA. But some have other criteria that one must meet to be able to apply for their financial aid programs. 

According to a Sallie Mae study, 67% of families say they receive a FinAid award letter from the school the student is attending. But many find it hard to understand.

Federal government offers the Federal Pell Grant, FSEOG, work study and federal student loans. Students may be eligible for either all or some of these programs. You also do not have to say yes to all the aid when you attend the school. To help you make that decision, here is a brief guide to some federal aid programs based on your FAFSA eligibility.  

Federal Pell Grant

The Pell Grant is a kind of gift aid that helps all eligible undergraduate students pay for a college degree. About 48% of students used grants of about $6,030 to help pay for college in 2019 to 2020.

To qualify for this grant you must be an undergraduate student with unmet financial need. If you have are pursuing a bachelor’s, graduate or professional doctoral degree, this one is not for you may not qualify.

Unlike a student loan, you typically does not have to repay a Pell Grant except in some cases. If you withdraw early, alter your enrollment status or receive other aid, then the grant amount may be reduced which reduces your aid. 

Amounts of the grant may change each year. The maximum award amount is $6,345. The amount you receive depends on EFC, the cost of the school, status (full time or part time) and plans to attend for a full school year or less

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant

The Financial Aid Office at schools that take part in this program award FSEOG grants. They are for students pursuing for first college degree. If you already have a bachelor’s degree you cannot apply.

Similar to the Pell Grant, it is a gift aid and repayment only kicks in under may only apply to specific circumstances That said, participating schools receive a finite sum to give out. As a result, you may boost your odds of getting one if you apply early.

FSEOG grant awards are typically between $100 and $4,000 a year. The amount depends on need and when you apply after considering your FAFSA eligibility. Also taken into account are any other aid you get and how much funds your school has available.

Federal Work Study

This program provides full and part time jobs on or off campus. It is open to eligible undergraduate, graduate and professional students in need. 

In 2019 to 2020 federal jobs helped 18% of American families fund college. Users reported average amounts $1,847 which is slightly more than the prior year.

Only schools that take part in the program offer these jobs. But those that do enable students to earn money while enrolled and helps pay education costs. 

Jobs tend to relate to your course of study where possible. The program also stresses civic education so other jobs may be about public interest.

Federal Student Loans

A federal student loan is money that you borrow and repay with interest. Both parents and students take out these loans from various sources to pay for college. 

In 2019 to 2020, 20% of families relied on loans to parents and 34% used student loans. The Federal Plus Loan accounted for 13% of parent borrowing and 30% of students’.

Often a school includes federal students loans as part of your FAFSA eligibility. So it is important to understand the main types of federal loans.

Federal student loans/parent loans. For these loans, the lender is the federal government. As a result, the law sets the terms. In some cases, you may be able to put off payments until you graduate, leave school or switch and enroll less than half time.

The U.S. Department of Education’s federal program is the William D. Ford Direct Loan Program and there are four types offered.

  • Direct Subsidized Loans. These loans are for eligible undergraduate students who show need. They aim to help cover the costs of higher education at a college or career school. 
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans. For eligible undergraduate, graduate and professional students. One does not have to show need to qualify.
  • Direct PLUS Loans. Made to graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduates. Borrowers use the loan to pay for some of the education costs not covered by other FinAid. While eligibility does not depend on need, the gov’t does run a credit check.
  • Direct Consolidation Loans. Allow one to combine all eligible loans from the federal gov’t into a single loan with a single loan servicer.

How Do You File the FAFSA®?

After you meet the FAFSA eligibility requirements, now it’s time to fill out and submit the form online, for free. All you do is select the “Fill Out the FAFSA” button on the home page, and follow the directions on the screen. 

It is a good idea to understand what documents you have to gather ahead of time. Otherwise it may take longer and you may submit incomplete information.

The first task is to create a FSA ID, username and password. The ID includes your SSN number and date of birth which auto loads onto the application.

If you are a dependent student, you must provide some information about your parents’ income. So, a parent must also use their SSN to create a separate ID. This enables a parent to sign the form electronically (once complete).

fafsa eligibility

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What Do You Need to File the FAFSA®?

The form asks for information about you and your family finances. Simple things are your name, date of birth, address, email, citizenship. Other documents relate to tax forms and income and vary by dependency status (married, independent, dependent).

Here are specific documents you need to fill out the FAFSA:

  • Federal tax information or tax returns including IRS W2
  • IRS 1040
  • Foreign tax return, IRS 1040NR, or IRS 1040NR-EZ
  • Tax returns for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or Palau
  • Records of your untaxed income. This includes child support received, interest income, and veterans non education benefits. 
  • Information on cash, savings and checking accounts as well as investments such as stocks, bonds and real estate. If you also have business and farm assets, you must list these for you, and for your parents if a dependent.

IRS Data Retrieval Tool

Students and parents who are eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) access it from the FAFSA form after logging in. The IRS DRT allows you to securely import original IRS tax return information in one step.

List of Colleges and/or Career Schools

You must list at least one school to receive your information. Any schools you list receive the form automatically. Then, use the form to determine the types of aid and amounts you may receive.  As the form is confidential, none of the schools are able to see this list.

When Do You Need to Submit the FAFSA®?

There are three deadlines for federal, college and state. It may be helpful to put these dates on your calendar.

Federal Deadlines 

2021 to 2022: You must submit forms by 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2022. For any corrections or updates you must submit by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 10, 2022.

2020 to 2021: You must submit forms by 11:59 p.m. CT on June 30, 2021. For any corrections or updates you must submit by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 11, 2021.

College Deadlines

Each college may have its own deadline, so you must check with the ones on your list. One of the things to clarify with them is how they define this deadline. 

State Deadlines

Each state has its own deadline. Luckily there is a quick way to find out what that is on the the student aid site. All you do is select your state of legal residence and the year for which you are applying for federal aid.

Checking the Status

After you submit your form online or on the myStudentAid mobile app, the student FSA ID allows you to check its status right away. There are 4 prompts to look for:

  1. Processing (may take 3 to 5 days)
  2. Processed Successfully (all good)
  3. Missing Signatures (make sure to correct by the update deadline)
  4. Action Required (you may need to contact your school)

What Happens if You Submit the FAFSA® Late?

If you miss the deadline, you are likely to miss out on federal aid for that period. You may have to wait to apply for aid next year. The government posts a current form every year around October 1. So you may want to send your forms in early. 

How to Avoid Common FAFSA® Mistakes That Affect Your Eligibility?

Making a mistake may affect the final aid outcome, so use these 10 tips avoid these common errors when you’re filing. FAFSA eligibility is affected by costly mistakes which you can easily avoid.

1. Read the directions first

It is a good idea to read instructions, gather documents and check out the resources in place that may answer your questions.

2. Get your FSA ID 

You may create this ID when you sit down to fill out the form or before. Make sure to store this information in a safe place.

3. Use correct digits

Including Social Security number, driver’s license, email, address. Also remember it is the student who must fill in the form (with their FSA ID) not the parents.

4. Fill in all mandatory fields

The U.S. Department of Education may not process incomplete FAFSA and affect your eligibility. Double check that you filled out all the necessary information. Otherwise it looks like you forgot to answer the question. 

5. Check income reporting period

Using the IRS DRT ensures you use tax forms from the appropriate year. 

6. Report taxed and untaxed income

Make sure to report all sources of untaxed income (Veterans’ non education benefits, child support, workers’ compensation, disability income).

7. Update marital status

The form asks for marital status as of the day you fill out the form. You must adapt the form to any changes (marriage, divorce, step parent’s income)

8. Add yourself to the household size

If a dependent, you include yourself as part of your parents’ household.

9. Sign the forms

Both you and your parents must sign the form (electronically) if you are a dependent. That is why one of the first steps for them is to create their own FSA ID

10. Submit early and on time

Some programs with limited funds may disperse them to the earliest filers. There is no such thing as filing late as the period closes on the deadline. Once you’ve clicked “submit” make sure to check the status of the form in case there is a mistake that you are able to fix before the final due date.