What Factors Affect Financial Aid Eligibility?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Factors that influence financial aid eligibility are income, place of residence, present academic goals, and the cost of attending specific schools. A student’s loan status, grades, and eligibility to participate in special programs are important, too. The availability of financial aid, which can vary, also impacts a student’s eligibility.

Reviewing financial aid information is an important part of the application process for graduate school.
Reviewing financial aid information is an important part of the application process for graduate school.

In places like the US, financial aid eligibility is most affected by the student's or his parents' income. Those who are just graduating high school are usually still considered dependents of their parents. Parental income thus becomes a powerful determination of how much aid students will receive. In some cases, only the student's income is relevant — for example, in cases where a student can prove financial independence.

Either the independent student's or the parents' income, plus the family size, is used to calculate what the student or family are expected to contribute toward educational costs. This can increase or decrease a financial aid package. It may also change the aid's composition, which can range from principally grants to only loans.

A student’s legal residence is another important consideration. Some regions do have grants available, like Cal Grants, in California. Students should always be aware of local sources of funding, if they exist, because these may prove beneficial and increase the amount of aid received.

Two other factors that may have bearing on financial aid eligibility are the student’s tenure in college and the degree sought. In the US, students earning their first college degree receive the most non-loan financial aid. People earning a second degree or graduate degree will usually only qualify for loans, though participation in some programs might create exceptions. Students might also be expected to attend at least half-time or full-time to get financial aid.

The amount it costs to attend a specific school, including factors like living expenses, is another way to determine financial aid eligibility. There is usually a cap of available aid for any student, which means that at very expensive schools, students aren’t likely to receive all the help they need from a government. At low cost schools, some students do get full costs paid, but they may not qualify for the full extent of financial aid they could get, because the school is less expensive. This is a common scenario when people attend junior colleges.

Especially in countries that offer student loans, having any loans in default can seriously damage financial aid eligibility. Some students won’t be able to get additional loans or grants due to bad loan status. Making regular payments on these is important to be able to receive additional funds.

Particularly as relates to loans, there may be programs that transform loan debt into grants. An example of this is the US TEACH grant, which offers loan forgiveness in exchange for service in underrepresented communities. Military service also allows students to access special funding programs.

Financial aid eligibility must, moreover, be viewed as fundamentally dependent on the amount a country or state offers. Some regions don’t fund these programs well or at all. Competition for aid can be intense, too, and people may lose out on grants by not applying on time. Further, grades may make a difference with certain types of financial aid, and students may occasionally need to show satisfactory progress, in order to qualify for some opportunities.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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