Are You Eligible for Federal Aid When You are in the Military?

Find out if service members can receive college money from the government to help pay for a college degree.

Federal aid for funding a college education is the largest national source of college aid. The military and Department of Veterans Affairs also officer education benefits to encourage service members of the Armed Forces to pursue higher education.

The benefit of pursuing federal financial aid for college is that the federal government offers both grants that don’t need to be repaid as well as loans with low interest rates, which help make them easier to pay back. Combining your military benefits with federal aid can help pay for a large portion of your education.

If your financial need changes significantly after you submit your FAFSA form, contact your financial aid administrator to see if your expected family contribution can be adjusted accordingly.

Federal aid is available to cover a variety of school costs, like tuition, fees related to your coursework and room and board or other housing costs. To get most kinds of federal grants, college loans and other financial aid, you’ll have to prove financial need. There are, however, additional requirements.

Read on to learn how federal aid is allotted and the main requirements you need to have to receive it, as well as your options if you don’t meet all the requirements.

Education Requirements for Federal Aid

In order to qualify for federal money for college, students must:

  • Have a high school diploma or General Education Development (GED) certificate. If students don’t have either of these, they must pass an approved ability-to-benefit (ATB) test. Students who are educated in a home school setting are eligible provided they complete their high school education.
  • Be enrolled or accepted in eligible degree programs or certificate programs (if they’re studying at a community college or career college).
  • Maintain academic progress at the school they’re enrolled in. Each school determines the guidelines for what they constitute satisfactory academic progress.

Legal Requirements for Federal Aid

All service members are eligible for federal student aid. This includes those who are active duty, in the reserves, veterans, retirees and those who are benefiting from other military programs, like the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Students seeking money for college are also required to:

  • Be a US citizen, or eligible non-citizen, with a valid social security number.
  • Register with Selective Service, if required. It is currently required for all males between 18 and 25.
  • Certify that they are going to use their federal college money only for their education.
  • Certify that they don’t owe money on federal grants and are not in default on any federal college loans.
  • Not engage in illegal activity involving drugs. If a student is convicted of selling or possessing illegal drugs, aid eligibility will be suspected, if the student was enrolled and receiving federal aid when the offence occurred.

Financial Requirements for Federal Aid

Unlike some military aid, federal aid is awarded based on financial need. Students must prove they cannot afford the cost of degree programs at colleges and universities they’re qualified for.

The Department of Education determines financial need in two different ways. For the Federal Pell Grant, which is gift aid that you do not need to repay, the amount you are eligible to receive depends on your family’s expected family contribution (EFC), which is determined by the information you provide on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, the cost of attendance (COA) at the school you’re applying to, and your enrollment status (full-time, three-quarter time, half time or less.

For other federal aid programs, each school’s financial aid office will assess their cost of attendance and subtract your expected family contribution, the amount of the Federal Pell Grant you’re eligible and any aid you get from any other sources.

Federal Student Aid Tips & Tactics

  • Not sure if you’re eligible for federal aid? You should still submit your FAFSA form, because you may still be eligible for state aid, college aid and financial aid from private institutions, and some of these programs may require the FAFSA. Remember that interest rates and repayment terms of private loans vary depending on the institution. If you receive aid from private institutions, take the time to compare student loans to get the lowest interest rate and repayment terms.
  • If you’re not currently eligible for aid but will be eligible during the school year, contact your financial aid administrator to find out if you can begin to receive federal aid.
  • Not sure if you qualify as an eligible non-citizen? Contact the financial aid office at each school you’re applying to.
  • If your financial need changes significantly after you submit your FAFSA form, contact your financial aid administrator to see if your expected family contribution can be adjusted accordingly. In some cases, special circumstances like medial expenses, unforeseen tuition expenses can be used to adjust your EFC.
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