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 FAFSA Processing System (FPS), 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 Student Aid Index (SAI). A FAFSA Submission Summary is sent to the applicant. An Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR) is sent to all of the colleges listed on the FAFSA, providing the SAI 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 SAI) 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 2024-25 academic year, the FAFSA Submission Summary lists all the Federal School Codes included on a student's application or correction for a specific transaction. Applicants have the option to enter, update, and view up to twenty college choices via the online FAFSA. On the paper FAFSA Submission Summary, up to twenty college choices might be listed, and an additional three choices can be added by the student. FAAs will see only their school information (Federal School Code) via the FAFSA Partner Portal (FPP) and Electronic Data Exchange (EDE). 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 FPS, a database match is conducted with several other federal agencies on the following items:
- Social Security number (SSN) of the student and all contributors (which may include a Student Spouse, Parent, and/or Parent Spouse or Partner), if applicable, with the Social Security Administration (SSA)
- Citizenship and immigration status with the SSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- 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 FPS calculates the SAI based on the FAFSA information. The SAI is a measure of how much the student and their family can be expected to contribute to the cost of the student's education for the year. The SAI is calculated according to a formula specified in the federal law. Refer to the 2024-25 Pell Eligibility and SAI Guide for more information.
The SAI is determined by the family's income, assets and size, and takes into consideration the family's living expenses. The SAI 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, the SAI will be listed in the upper right-hand corner of the FAFSA Submission Summary/ISIR. The SAI 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 no SAI is 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 the SAI and, if applicable, comments that must be resolved before aid can be disbursed. In addition to the SAI, 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
- 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 Volume 7 – Comment Codes of the 2024-25 FAFSA Specifications Guide for details about the matches and conflict resolution.
The SAI is not valid until all conflicting information has been resolved.
NOTE: For the 2024-25 processing cycle, a new platform is being used and, as a result, all system edits have been completely rewritten. There are new comments and deleted comments. In addition, the comment numbers associated with the comment text have all changed, along with the reject numbers and FPS C Flag assignments. Also new for the 2024-25 cycle is that there is only one version of comment text, written to apply to all outputs that use comment codes and text. When viewing or printing an electronic FAFSA Submission Summary via the FAFSA Partner Portal, or when a student is viewing or printing their electronic FAFSA Submission Summary, the text for the affected comments is printed. ISIRs printed from third-party software may not print the text for the variable comments, depending on how the software was programmed – schools are encouraged to consult with the software vendor for more information.
When a school receives the student's FAFSA information (including a valid SAI), 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 SAI 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 has been admitted and has 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.
For the 2024-25 processing cycle, ED has overhauled the underlying system platform and architecture, and has also restructured user documentation. Several elements of user documentation have been reorganized into the FAFSA Specifications Guide, which is separated into volumes. This new resource replaces these stand-alone documents from prior years: Summary of Changes for the Application Processing System; EDE Technical Reference; Application Processing System Specifications for Software Developers; The ISIR Guide; SAR Comment Codes and Text; CPS Test System User Guide.
- 2024-25 FAFSA Specifications Guide
- 2024-25 Pell Eligibility and SAI Guide
- FSA Handbook includes numerous chapters within each volume to assist with all phases of Federal Student Aid
- FAFSA online
- 2024-25 PDF FAFSA (English and 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
- USCIS 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.