Many students depend on financial aid to make their higher education dreams a reality. Attending college is a significant investment, and applying for financial aid is a wise choice.
In this article, we review common types of financial aid, then explore who is eligible for federal student aid and several factors that can affect your eligibility.
What Is Financial Aid?
Financial aid is money you receive to help pay for your college education. Common sources of financial aid include:
- Grants: Grants are gifts of money that students can apply for to help them pay for school, and most do not need to be repaid. Federal grants such as the Pell Grant award tuition money based on need, and private organizations may also have grant opportunities.
- Scholarships: Students can typically earn scholarships based on merits, such as GPA or standardized test scores. Scholarships may also be available for groups of people, such as military spouses. Many organizations offer scholarship opportunities, including universities.
- Loans: Students can also apply for federal loans, which they must begin paying back after graduation. Student loan forgiveness has been a common news topic in recent years, but there’s nothing in the way of certainty around the matter, so don’t take any loans you won’t be able to pay back.
Federal Student Aid Eligibility
Although financial aid is also available through private loans, grants, and scholarships, for the purposes of this article, we’re focusing on federal student aid.
Eligibility criteria for federal student aid awarded by the U.S. Department of Education include a demonstrated “financial need.” Financial need is defined as:
“The difference between the cost of attendance (COA) at a school and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). While COA varies from school to school, your EFC does not change based on the school you attend.”
In addition to financial need, the Department of Education outlines the following basic eligibility criteria for federal student aid in a helpful infographic:
- Earn a high school diploma or equivalent.
- Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in an eligible degree or certificate program.
- Have a valid social security number, unless you’re from the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, or Palau.*
- Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
- Maintain satisfactory academic progress.
* Additional requirements include either (1) being a U.S. citizen or U.S. national, (2) having a Green Card, (3) having an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94), (4) having “Battered Immigrant” status, or (5) having a T Visa.
How To Regain Eligibility
If you've received federal student aid in the past but lost it, you might be wondering if you can regain your eligibility. The steps to becoming eligible again depend on how or why you lost your financial aid. For example:
- Defaulting on a student loan: You’ll need to get out of default on your student loan before you can qualify for financial aid again.
- Failing to meet academic progress criteria: If you lose your financial aid because you aren't making good grades or earning enough credits, consult your school's financial aid office to try to appeal your eligibility.
- Losing your noncitizen eligibility: If your eligible noncitizen status expires or gets revoked, you must have it reinstated – or become a citizen or permanent resident – before reapplying for financial aid.
Applying for financial aid is a smart decision for anyone attending college, including those pursuing degrees online. Here at Columbia Southern University, our Office of Financial Aid guides students through the process of paying for school through federal aid.
For more information about how CSU’s tuition costs compare with other online degree programs around the country, follow the link below to read our Q&A with Chief Marketing Officer Dale Leatherwood about the CSU Cost Comparison Calculator.