How Does FAFSA Eligibility Get Determined?

Use the following simple criteria to help figure out if you qualify to receive aid for college…

Despite the almost universal need for financial help when it comes to college tuition, many families are hesitant to even apply for aid in the first place.

Why?  Because they simply don’t know if they’re eligible to receive funds.

So in an effort to clear up confusion, let’s take a brief look at how exactly the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) determines who is and who isn’t eligible.

The following are some of the most basic and common criteria you’ll encounter in order to qualify for financial aid on the FAFSA:

  • Demonstration of a financial need. Where you keep your money can go a long way towards determining how much financial aid you’re eligible for. Having money in “non-includable” accounts such as IRA’s, 401(k)’s, annuities and cash value life insurance can help keep many families’ “Expected Family Contribution” as low as possible. Check out some of the related articles listed below to learn how – even with a very nice income and considerable assets – you can still demonstrate a measurable need for college aid.
  • Completion of high school. This is of course an obvious one.  In order to qualify for aid to go to college, you must have first completed high school or a high school equivalency.   One step at a time…
  • U.S. citizenship or eligible non-citizenship. Eligible non-citizens include those with asylum in the U.S. or with permanent residency status.  International exchange students typically do not qualify for government aid.  Children who are legal citizens but whose parents are illegal immigrants may also qualify for financial aid.  In these cases, it’s best to consult and work with a financial aid officer since it can be a bit tricky.
  • Grade Level, Degree Pursued, First Bachelor’s Degree. Most federal financial aid is reserved for students pursuing their first degree. If you’re going back for a second undergraduate degree you still may end up qualifying for funds, but what you receive will be FAR less than what you were eligible for your first time around. However this does NOT apply to graduate students.  Eligibility for graduate school is handled differently.



You won’t find this anywhere else in the college planning space…

It’s an “inside look” at your college funding situation – over the phone, with one of our education consultants… absolutely FREE.

They’ll help you figure out where you stand… including whether or not you can lower your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – and maximize your eligibility for financial aid.

What’s more – YOU set the date and time for the call. Visit this page to get your free college funding analysis.


  • Registration with the selective service. If you’re a male and you’re over 18, this is a simple one.  Either you register for the draft, or you’re not eligible for financial aid.  It’s simple to do and the draft hasn’t been in effect for decades, so this really shouldn’t be too much of an obstacle.
  • Enrollment status. In order to qualify for Federal financial aid you must be enrolled as at least a student for half of your time. Each school ultimately makes the determination on what “half time” is, but typically you’re looking at 6 credit hours or more.
  • Highest level of education for parents. The parents’ highest level of education completed is the key in determining eligibility for “First in the Family to College” type scholarships.  The name is pretty self explanatory.  If your child is the first in the family to attend college, they’ll end up eligible for even more Government aid.  This is a nice program and incentive for those families who are newcomers to higher education.

Don’t Leave Free College Money on the Table

The biggest mistake many families make when applying for college is assuming they won’t be eligible for financial aid.

No matter how much money you earn, what type of degree you’re pursuing or how much time your child plans on devoting to college, it’s within your best interest to at least fill out a FAFSA form and see what you qualify for. Also make sure to check out our 5 tips on how to fill out the FAFSA form.

The form is free to submit, so really there’s no reason NOT to do it.   With the right information and the right approach, you could significantly bring down the out of pocket costs you’ll be responsible for when sending your child to college.

As always, do your homework and research thoroughly.  You can start right here.  I’ve included links below to several reports that can help teach you how to maximize your college aid potential.

Make sure to also have a look at the U.S. Department of Education student loans web site for more information.

Good luck and good learning.

To your successful college search,

Scott Weingold


Related Articles:

5 Tips on How To Fill out the FAFSA Form

How To Reduce Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

How Is Financial Aid Calculated?

Return to College Made Simple's Free Reports

Find us on Facebook! Find us on Facebook!

Increase Your SAT Scores Learn How to Increase the SAT Score... By 203 Point or More
Just tell us where to send the full report...
We'll also send you - at no charge - the College Funding Made Simple e-Course, delivered to your email inbox in 12 parts, by topic. With each part, you'll come away with valuable, actionable insights proven to help parents and students in the college admissions and funding process.

NO-SPAM PLEDGE: We believe that your personal information should stay that way. Rest assured, your email address is 100% confidential, and under no circumstance will we ever rent, sell or give away your email address outside of our own network without you specifically requesting us to do so.


DawnJanuary 13th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

My son will still be 17 when he enters college in the Fall of 2011. How do we handle the selective service question on the FAFSA form? I can’t imagine he would not be eligible for financial aid due to his age but the FAFSA wording for this one question is confusing.

Cathy EbenJanuary 14th, 2011 at 12:03 pm

When a male student applies to a college, he should always answer the selective service question as “Yes” since eventually he will have to register for it. The agency will hold his registration until he turns 18, so you will not need to file additional paperwork. This way he will be ensured that any aid he is to receive will not be held up when he turns 18.

RoxanneJuly 20th, 2012 at 12:35 pm

I live alone and have not seen or herd from my parents in years. I am also under 25, is this going to prevent me from getting approved for financial aid?

Jodi PolsterAugust 7th, 2012 at 7:34 am

Hello, and thanks for your question. Your situation will not prevent you from getting approved for financial aid. What you will need to do is contact the financial aid office at the college you will be attending and inform them of your situation. The earlier you are able to speak to a financial aid counselor the better. They will tell you what additional steps you will need to take to make sure you are eligible for financial aid. As long as you follow their steps your situation should not prevent you from receiving financial aid.

Kera YoungDecember 11th, 2012 at 9:49 pm

I am getting married next year , I am wondering if this will keep me from being eligible the following fall/spring semester. I do not have any income, he is paying for everything for the both of us. any ideas?

Jodi PolsterDecember 12th, 2012 at 1:35 pm

There are many different factors that determine financial aid. Getting married will not make you ineligible for financial aid. When completing the financial aid forms you will need to list that you are married and enter your information along with your husbands. That information will determine your eligibility for financial aid.

Bola AiyegbusiApril 1st, 2013 at 1:45 pm

my name is Bola Aiyegbusi,my son is trasfring to another university in the fall as a junior,he did fill out FAFSA form,but he was given only 1/3 of school tuition, he was told he will need to apply for loan and parent can apply for parent plus loan.Last year i made 48,000.00 for the family of five.we have three children,one is doing master program, the other one is doing his undergraduate and have the third one in high school and my husband does not have a job,we live pay check to paycheck.what is income eligibilty?your inputs will be highly appereciated.Thanks

Jodi PolsterApril 10th, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Hello Bola,
My suggestion would be to contact the financial aid office where your son will be attending college and ask how you can appeal for additional financial aid. The college may be able to review your situation and award additional aid based on your situation. Unfortunately, there are many colleges that do not meet 100% of student’s financial need and loans are what the college’s suggest to make up the difference.

Maria BustillosApril 15th, 2013 at 9:59 am

My grandchild lives with me, I don’t have legal guardianship of her, her parents are not around. If I claim her on my taxes will this affect her to qualify for financial aid for college.

Jodi PolsterApril 15th, 2013 at 11:09 am

Hello Maria,
Since you do not have legal guardianship of your grandchild, her parent’s information would need to be listed on the FAFSA. Claiming her on your taxes would not have an impact on her financial aid.

Leave a comment
Your comment

Editor's Note: Scott Weingold has been ranked the #1 “College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About” in the entire country by  He has co-authored the book, “The Real Secret To Paying For College. The Insider’s Guide To Sending Your Child To College – Without Spending Your Life’s Savings.” Scott also publishes a popular free online newsletter, “College Funding Made Simple" which reveals insider’s tips, methods, and strategies for beating the high cost of college.

Scott is the co-founder and a principal of the widely renown College Planning Network, LLC – the nation’s largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid planning firm. CPN is a proud member of the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of College Funding Advisors, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Scott, along with his college funding advisory team, helps thousands of families throughout the country with their college planning needs and offers a series of free educational webinars and workshops on “How To Pay For College Without Going Broke In The Process!” He's been featured or mentioned in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo News,, Voice America with Ron Adams, Crains Cleveland Business, and on Cleveland Connection with James McIntyre.  Scott has published numerous articles and is a professional speaker who has addressed thousands of audiences online and offline throughout the United States.  His actionable insights and candid, open approach have earned him & his team numerous media interviews, citations, and speaking opportunities, and his free online video workshop is one of the Internet’s most widely viewed pieces in the college funding space.