How Do I Discover My Financial Aid Eligibility?

Many, if not most, students depend on some financial aid to help them cover the cost of college. Determining financial aid eligibility, however, can be confusing. What do you qualify for? How much can you earn?

This article covers the general eligibility requirements for the 3 main types of financial aid available to students—federal student loans, grants, and scholarships.

A student's hand with leather bracelets giving a thumbs up in the sky.

Basic Eligibility Criteria for Scholarships

As you likely know, scholarships are a form of free financial aid that is awarded to students who meet the requirements of that particular opportunity. There is no fixed eligibility criterion for scholarships. Each award opportunity has its own unique requirements depending on the sponsoring organization or person.

Some may be awarded for academic merit, others for accomplishments in extracurriculars, and still others for certain demographics. You’ll need to check every scholarship individually to determine whether or not you are eligible to apply. Some common requirements include:

  • A certain GPA minimum
  • Certain ACT/SAT score minimum
  • Volunteer hours
  • Demonstration of financial need
  • A US citizenship
  • A certain age requirement
  • Submitting an essay with the application
  • An interview
  • Letters of recommendation

Basic Eligibility Criteria for Grants

Grants are also a free form of financial aid offered to students who are financially challenged. The Pell Grant program is the largest grant scheme in the U.S. To be eligible for the Pell Grant, you must meet these requirements:

  • Be a US citizen or an eligible noncitizen
  • Have a Social Security number
  • Submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form demonstrating financial need
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program
  • Have a high school diploma or a General Educational Development (GED) certificate
  • Show satisfactory progress in academic studies

Demonstrating financial need is the key criteria for determining eligibility for the Pell Grant program.

Basic Eligibility Criteria for Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans or government loans allow students to borrow money at a much lower cost than private student loans.

To be eligible for Federal Students Loans, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen
  • Complete and submit the FAFSA
  • Have a valid SSN
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress in college or career school
  • Have a High School Diploma or a General Educational Development (GED) certificate

To be eligible for Direct Loan Program funds, you must be enrolled at least half-time in a recognized degree or certificate program.

The biggest advantage of federal student loans is their lower interest rates. In addition, borrowers also benefit from flexible payment options as well as forgiveness options for those who qualify. It is advisable to exhaust all federal loan options available to you before considering taking a private student loan.

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