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Financial Aid for People with a Criminal Conviction

You need to know which convictions limit your eligibility for financial aid. And how to apply for financial aid.

Many people with felony convictions can receive financial aid but don't apply because they think they won’t qualify. They miss their chance to go to college based on wrong information.

To get financial aid 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 can receive. For most financial aid you must show need.

You also cannot owe a refund on a federal grant. Or be in default on a federal student loan. You must also 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 you're male you must register when you are between the ages of 18 and 25. Call Selective Service at 1-888-655-1825 for more information.
  • Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) Certificate. You can also qualify if you pass an approved "Ability to Benefit" test and enroll in a career pathways program. Talk to your preferred college if you need to learn more about taking an "Ability to Benefit" test.
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in an eligible degree or certificate program at a school that participates in the federal student aid programs.

As well, there are additional restrictions on your federal financial aid eligibility while you are still incarcerated or if you have certain types of convictions.

While You’re Incarcerated

While you are incarcerated your eligibility for federal student aid is limited. You won’t be able to get a federal student loan. If you are in a federal or state institution you also won’t be able to get a Federal Pell Grant.

Once you are released most of these restrictions will be removed. This is true even if you are on parole or probation. However, there still can still be restrictions. Read how a drug conviction affects eligibility below.

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, your eligibility to receive federal student aid will be suspended. Even if you are not eligible for federal aid, you may be eligible for state or school financial aid.

On the FAFSA form, there is a question that asks about drug convictions.

"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.
  3. Yes/Don't Know Ineligible/Don't Know
    You are not eligible for federal aid for this school year. 

If you complete an acceptable drug rehabilitation program your suspension may be lifted. Talk with your Parole Officer or health care provider to help you find an acceptable program.

If you become eligible for federal financial aid, notify your school.

If you are convicted of possessing or selling drugs after you submit your FAFSA you will lose your eligibility and be required to pay back all aid you received.

FAFSA Information

Follow these steps to ensure you receive any financial aid for which you are eligible.

File the FAFSA

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Most schools use the FAFSA to decide your financial aid. The FAFSA determines the amount of federal aid you will receive when you go to college. The FAFSA is an online application. You can find a link to the application in "Other Resources" below. A job coach or transition specialist can help you fill it out.

Don't Wait to File!

In addition to federal aid, you might qualify for financial aid from the state you attend college in, and from the school. State student financial aid deadlines vary. State or school funds may run out. Applying early is the best way to ensure you receive the most aid. You can fill out the application while you are still incarcerated to make sure your aid will be available when you start school.

Many factors can impact the amount of aid you receive. Be sure to check your eligibility each year.

Next Steps:

Other Resources