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Financial Aid

Am I Eligible for Financial Aid?

Updated Jan 22, 2024   |   5-min read

Financial aid makes it possible for millions of Americans to attend college. In fact, a whopping 86% of college students use some form of financial aid for their schooling.

There are two types of financial aid students can use: Federal aid and private aid. With federal aid, nearly all students are eligible. Private options are typically more challenging to come by, as they may require certain credit scores or a co-signer. Use this guide to learn more about financial aid eligibility.

In this guide:

How to determine federal financial aid eligibility

You should always look to federal financial aid before turning to private options, especially when it comes to loans, as federal loans typically come with lower interest rates and more favorable repayment terms. To assess your eligibility for this aid — as well as how much you can qualify for — you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

The FAFSA allows you to apply for all kinds of federal student aid, including loans, work-study programs, scholarships, and grants. Many colleges also use the FAFSA to determine which of their scholarship and aid programs students are eligible for.

The form requires information about the student, their parents, and their household income. This data is used to calculate the student’s Expected Family Contribution — or how much the student’s family should contribute annually toward education costs themselves. Since many forms of federal aid are need-based, this number is used to determine both the type of aid the student qualifies for and how much.

Is there basic eligibility criteria that must be met?

To qualify for federal financial aid, there are some basic qualifications you’ll need to meet. For many programs, you’ll need to demonstrate financial need.

In addition, you will also need to:

  • Have U.S. citizenship or be an eligible non-citizen (including permanent residents)
  • Have a Social Security number
  • Be registered for the Selective Service (for males 18 to 25)
  • Be enrolled or accepted into an eligible educational program
  • Be enrolled in at least half-time hours (six semester hours) for Direct Loans
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress while enrolled

If you’re still wondering “am I eligible for financial aid” after reading the above, you should still fill out a FAFSA. It’s free to apply and could result in aid for your higher education.

How to determine private financial aid eligibility

You’ll want to max out your federal financial aid options first, but if you still need help after that, private financial aid can fill in the gaps. With private financial aid, you have several options, including loans, scholarships, grants, and more. Eligibility for this varies by provider (some are companies; some may be community organizations).

Is there basic eligibility criteria that must be met?

There are no standard eligibility requirements for private financial aid, so the exact standards you’ll need to meet will depend on which company you choose.

A private student loan from Ascent, for example, requires at least a 540 credit score. Earnest’s minimum, on the other hand, is 650. Generally speaking, you’ll need a decent credit score or a co-signer to qualify for a private student loan.

Scholarships and grant programs usually aren’t based on your credit score or other financial data. Instead, they are based on merit or need. The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, which awards scholarships to seniors “leading positive change,” is one example.

What’s the difference between need-based and non-need-based

Need-based financial aid programs mean your household cannot afford the total cost of your attendance and that financial assistance is needed to attend school. Non-need-based programs  — like unsubsidized loans, for example — can be used by anyone, regardless of what your household income is or how much you can contribute personally to your school costs.

To learn more, check out our guide on need-based vs. non-need-based financial aid.

Can my financial aid eligibility status change?

Your eligibility can change, as can the amount of financial aid you qualify for. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including:

  • You’re no longer enrolled in an eligible program or school
  • You’re not enrolled in enough hours
  • Your academic progress is unsatisfactory
  • Your citizenship changes
  • You’ve been incarcerated or convicted of a drug offense.

If your Estimated Family Contribution changes, it could also impact the amount of aid you’re eligible for. Fortunately, just because you’re ineligible one year does not mean you’re ineligible forever. If your situation changes, you may once again qualify for federal financial aid. You can also look to private aid, as it often comes with different eligibility requirements.

Additional resources for determining your financial aid eligibility: