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Financial Aid Eligibility for People with Felonies

You need to know which convictions limit your eligibility for financial aid. You also need to know what you can do about it.

There is a misconception that no ex-offenders are eligible for financial aid. In fact, many people with felony convictions can receive financial aid but don't apply. They miss their chance to go to college based on wrong information.

The first step to getting federal financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA helps determine if you can get financial aid. It also determines how much aid you are eligible to receive.

To be eligible to receive federal student aid, you must meet these requirements:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Have a valid Social Security Number (unless you're from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau)
  • Comply with Selective Service registration, if required
  • Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) Certificate or pass an approved ability-to-benefit (ATB) test
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student working toward a degree or certificate in an eligible program at a school that participates in the federal student aid programs

Other requirements:

  • You must not owe a refund on a federal grant or be in default on a federal student loan
  • You must have financial need (except for unsubsidized Stafford Loans)
  • You must not have certain drug convictions

It's that last requirement that is problematic for some ex-offenders.

Drug Convictions

If you were convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs and the offense happened while you were enrolled in school and receiving federal student aid (grants, loans, and/or work-study), your eligibility to receive federal student aid is suspended.

You might still qualify for financial aid from another source such as scholarships, or funds from the school.

However, if you were convicted before you enrolled in school and were not receiving federal financial aid at the time, you are NOT automatically ineligible to receive federal student aid now.

The FAFSA Drug Conviction Worksheet (815k, .pdf) will help you determine your eligibility. The worksheet will direct you to complete the FAFSA online.

On the FAFSA form, there is a question that asks:

"Has the student been convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while the student was receiving federal student aid (grants, loans, and/or work-study)?"

Use the FAFSA Drug Conviction Worksheet to help you respond. Your answer will be one of the following:

1. No
Your eligibility for federal student aid is not affected.

2. Yes (partially during the year)
You are partially eligible. You will become eligible for federal aid during the school year. You can become eligible earlier in the school year if you complete an acceptable drug rehabilitation program.

3. Yes/Don't Know Ineligible/Don't know
You are not eligible for federal aid for this school year unless you complete an acceptable drug rehabilitation program. You may still be eligible for state and school aid.

Even if you are not eligible for federal aid, you may be eligible for state or school financial aid.

If you become eligible for federal financial aid (for example, if your eligibility date arrives or if you complete an acceptable drug rehabilitation program), notify the financial aid administrator at your school.

If you are convicted of possessing or selling drugs after you submit your FAFSA, you must notify your financial aid administrator immediately. You will lose your eligibility and be required to pay back all aid you received after your conviction.

Acceptable Drug Rehabilitation Programs

An acceptable drug rehabilitation program must:

  • Include two unannounced drug tests.
  • Be qualified to receive funds from federal, state, or local government, or a state-licensed insurance company.
  • Or be administered or recognized by a federal, state, or local government agency or court, or a state-licensed hospital, health clinic, or medical doctor.

Talk with your Parole Officer or health care provider to help you find an acceptable program.

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