For many students, financial aid is what makes it possible to attend college. However, when those students have a criminal record, it may seem impossible to get the help they need to afford higher education. While many believe that having a criminal record prevents you from receiving federal aid, the truth is more complicated.
FAFSA applications ask about the applicant’s criminal record, but that doesn’t mean that they are ineligible.
If you or your child are filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you will notice a question about criminal history. While this might lead you to believe that you cannot receive student aid because of a felony in your past, the truth is that most offenses will not disqualify a student from federal student aid.
Some offenses do restrict your access to financial aid.
While many offenses will not disqualify you from receiving federal grants, some do make you ineligible. Some sexual offenses and drug crimes will make a student ineligible for some forms of financial aid like the Pell Grant, though this ineligibility may not be permanent. Students may still be eligible for other grants like the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) and Federal Work-Study (FWS), but their access may be limited if they are incarcerated.
If a student received student aid while they were ineligible due to a criminal conviction, they may be required to return those funds.
Regaining eligibility is possible.
Because first or second drug offenses suspend a student’s eligibility for aid for a limited time, it may be possible to take time away from school and return when eligibility is restored. However, it is also possible to go through a rehabilitation program or drug tests to have eligibility restored early.
If you or your child wonder whether you will be able to get the support you need to pay for college, one of the best ways to explore your options is to discuss the issue with a parole officer and the admissions office of the school. There may be solutions that allow you to access the aid you need after a criminal conviction.