How Do I Know if My Child Qualifies for Federal Student Aid?

Applying for federal student aid is often the first step towards paying for college, but it can be difficult to know if a student qualifies for aid. The basic requirement to receive aid is that the student must be an American citizen or eligible noncitizen with a US Social Security Number. Beyond that, there are no set income restrictions.

Basic Eligibility Requirements

To receive federal financial aid for college, students must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a US citizen or eligible noncitizen
  • Have a valid US social security number
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in an eligible degree or certificate program
  • Be registered for Selective Service (male students only)
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress

Eligible noncitizens

The following are considered to be eligible non-citizens:

  • A permanent resident with a “Green Card”
  • An I-551C conditional permanent resident
  • A person with an Arrival-Departure Record I-94 from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with any of these designations: Refugee, Asylum Granted, Indefinite Parole, Humanitarian Parole, or Cuban-Haitian Entrant
  • A citizen of the Republic of Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Federated States of Micronesia
  • A holder of a T-visa, which is issued to victims of human trafficking, or you are the child of someone who holds this type of visa
  • A battered immigrant-qualified alien, meaning you are a victim of abuse or the child of a victim as defined by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

Income Limits

While many students and families mistakenly think they make too much to be eligible for federal financial aid, there is no set income limit. There are a lot of variables and factors schools consider when making a financial aid offer, of which income is just one.

More than your income, schools will be focused on the Expected Family Contribution score generated by your child’s FAFSA®. Schools will subtract the EFC score from their Cost of Attendance to determine your child’s financial need.

Additionally, the FAFSA® is often used to determine more than federal aid. Even if a school isn’t willing to offer federal aid, the student may qualify for state or school aid, giving your child additional reasons to file his or her FAFSA®.

Expected Family Contribution Factors

The following items are taken into account when a student’s EFC score is calculated:

  • Parent income (if the student is determined to be a dependent student)
  • Parent assets (investments, second homes, family businesses that employ over 100 people)
  • Family size
  • Number of family listed in “family size” in college
  • Student’s income
  • Student’s assets
  • Spouse’s income and assets (if married)

Financial Aid Award Letters

Your child will learn if he or she is receiving financial aid when they receive a financial aid award letter from their school. The financial aid award letter will include the amount the school is offering in loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study.

The award letter will also detail the school’s cost of attendance for the year. To determine your child’s net cost, subtract the amount of financial aid being awarded from the school’s cost of attendance.

Only a school can make a financial aid offer. While the FSA will provide a basic outline of eligibility once the FAFSA® is completed, it is the school that makes the final decision.