In order to receive federal financial aid and most state financial aid, an applicant must meet several eligibility requirements. Colleges determine student eligibility by reviewing information submitted on the FAFSA and other student records.
An applicant must:
- qualify for financial need (except for certain loans and some state gift assistance programs);
- have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate, or pass a test approved by the U.S. Department of Education (ED);
- be working toward a degree or certificate;
- be enrolled in an eligible program;
- be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen;
- have a valid Social Security number; and,
- maintain satisfactory academic progress once in college.
After a FAFSA (electronic or paper/PDF) is submitted to the Central Processing System (CPS), a series of matches are conducted with other federal agencies to verify information (i.e., Social Security number and citizenship status) and then various edits are applied to the application information to determine an applicant’s expected family contribution (EFC). A Student Aid Report (SAR) is sent to the applicant. An Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR) is sent to all of the colleges listed on the FAFSA, providing the EFC and – in the FAA section – comment codes about match results and information that impacts eligibility for federal student aid.
Once a college receives the student’s FAFSA information (including a valid EFC) and calculates aid eligibility, an award package for the student’s aid can be determined. Students who may be ineligible for federal aid should still complete the FAFSA, as they may be eligible for nonfederal aid from states and private institutions.
For the 2023-24 academic year, the SAR lists all the Federal School Codes included on a student’s application or correction for a specific transaction. Applicants will continue to have the same options for entering, updating, and viewing up to ten college choices on FOTW and up to four choices on a paper SAR. FAAs will see only their school information (Federal School Code, name, and housing plans) in FAA Correction Entry, Student Inquiry, ISIR Compare, and the eSAR (PDF and HTML). ISIRs received by State Agencies list all of the Federal School Codes selected by the applicant on each transaction.
When an application is received by the CPS, a database match is conducted with several other federal agencies on the following items:
- Social Security number (SSN) of the student & parent, if applicable, with the Social Security Administration (SSA)
- Citizenship and immigration status with the SSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- Selective Service registration
- As the result of early implementation of specific aspects of the FAFSA Simplification Act during the 2022-23 academic year, failing to register with the Selective Service does not affect a student’s Title IV aid eligibility.
- SAR Selective Service comments (026, 028, 030, 031, 033, and 057) have been deleted for 2023-24.
- For additional information, refer to Dear Colleague Letter GEN-21-04, published on June 11, 2021.
- Drug-related and conviction information with the Department of Justice (DOJ)
- As the result of early implementation of specific aspects of the FAFSA Simplification Act during the 2022-23 academic year, having a drug conviction while receiving federal Title IV aid does not affect a student’s Title IV aid eligibility.
- SAR Drug Convictions Affecting Eligibility comments (052, 053, 054, 056, and 058) have been deleted for 2023-24.
- For additional information, refer to Dear Colleague Letter GEN-21-04, published on June 11, 2021.
- Veteran status with the Veteran’s Administration (VA)
- Whether the applicant’s parent was a member of the Armed Forces who died as a result of service in Iraq or Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, with the Department of Defense (DOD)
- Default or Overpayment, exceeded loan borrowing limits and financial aid history with the National Student Loan Database System (NSLDS®)
After the matches are conducted, the CPS calculates an EFC based on the FAFSA information. The EFC is a measure of how much the student and his or her family can be expected to contribute to the cost of the student's education for the year. The EFC is calculated according to a formula specified in the federal law.
The EFC is determined by the family's income, assets and size, and takes into consideration the family's living expenses and the number of family members enrolled in college. The EFC is not a lump sum amount due at the beginning of a school year but, rather, a measure of the family's ability over time to absorb some of the educational costs.
Unless the FAFSA is rejected, an EFC will be listed in the upper right-hand corner of the SAR/ISIR. The EFC may be followed by a “C” indicating there is a discrepancy with one of the matches. A corresponding comment code will be included in the FAA section. If certain conditions are met, the FAFSA is rejected and an EFC is not calculated. When the school receives the ISIR, the reject reason comment code will be listed in the FAA section.
The college will receive an ISIR that provides an EFC and, if applicable, comments that must be resolved before aid can be disbursed. In addition to the EFC, which is one component used to determine if an applicant qualifies for financial aid, the following are school-determined initial and continuing eligibility requirements.
- Regular student in an eligible program
- Academic qualifications (high school diploma or equivalent)
- Satisfactory Academic Progress
- Enrollment status
- Issues related to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 (comment code 9)
- Conflicting information
Information in the school files and application processing conflicts must be resolved before Federal Student Aid (FSA) funds can be disbursed. Comment codes that need to be resolved will be listed in the FAA section of the ISIR. Refer to the FSA Handbook (Volume 1 – Student Eligibility) and the 2023-24 SAR Comment Codes and Text guide for details about the matches and conflict resolution.
An EFC is not valid until all conflicting information has been resolved. These are a few of the possible conflicts that can occur.
- Information on the FAFSA is missing, in conflict with other reported information, or is assumed.
- An application will be rejected if required signatures are missing or there is a conflict with any of the matches. An EFC is not produced on a rejected application. Refer to the 2023-24 SAR Comment Codes and Text guide for a complete list of reject codes. Use the correction process to submit the resolved information and obtain a valid EFC.
- A “C” code will be printed next to the EFC on the SAR for any of the conditions described in the charts in the “Database Match Results” section (pages 138-147) of the 2023-24 SAR Comment Codes and Text guide. Until the problem is resolved, the school cannot disburse FSA funds or certify or originate a loan. Some of the data match results generate a rejected record.
- An asterisk (*) in the Match Flag column indicates that a match flag value is not generated for cases that could not be sent to the matching agency. A blank value code was added to indicate that the records were not sent to match or the match wasn’t performed. The school must resolve the conflict before disbursing aid.
- An asterisk (*) after the EFC indicates the CPS selected the application for Verification. For details about the process, refer to the FSA Handbook (Chapter 4 – Application and Verification Guide ).
When a school receives the student’s FAFSA information (including a valid EFC), student aid can be awarded – this process is called “packaging.” The general rule in packaging is that the student’s total financial aid and other estimated financial assistance must not exceed the student’s financial need. The EFC is deducted from the cost of attendance (COA) in order to determine the student's financial need. The college/university determines the COA, which is an estimate of the expenses that are usually incurred by students attending that school. Typically, a COA will include tuition, fees, living expenses (room and board), books and supplies, and transportation. Each school has a different COA.
Packaging is a process that varies from school to school, depending on the types of aid available at the school and the characteristics of the student population. Schools may have different packaging philosophies, but an attempt is generally made to find the best combination of aid to meet the financial need of the students attending that college.
The college will send a financial aid award notification to each student who included their Federal School Code on the FAFSA. The award notification outlines the financial aid package the college can offer. The student and their parents can accept or reject all or part of the offer.
ED publishes a variety of user guides, Dear Colleague Letters, Federal Registers and other policy and procedural guidance each academic year that provide details about all phases of the financial aid process. The information is posted on the FSA Partner Connect – Knowledge Center. Corresponding information that is relevant to applicants is also available via the Federal Student Aid website.
- 2023-24 Summary of Changes for the Application Processing System guide
- 2023-24 EDE Technical Reference
- 2023-24 EFC Formula guide
- 2023-24 ISIR Guide
- 2023-24 SAR Comment Codes and Text guide
- FSA Handbook includes numerous chapters within each volume to assist with all phases of Federal Student Aid
- FAFSA online
- 2023-24 FAFSA on the Web Worksheet (English or Spanish)
- 2023-24 PDF FAFSA (English or Spanish)
In addition to information available via the Knowledge Center and Federal Student Aid website, there are other sources of information available to assist with the financial aid application process and determining eligibility.
- Mapping Your Future
- UICIS website
- FOIA Request
- Transition from paper G-845 for to Electronic Confirmation Process of Immigration Status
- DHS-SAVE Instructions for U.S. Department of Education (School) Users
- SAVE (Electronic Immigration Status Verification) – Administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (a component of the Department of Homeland Security), SAVE is an online service that allows federal, state, and local benefit-granting agencies to verify a benefit applicant’s immigration status or naturalized/derived citizenship.