Federal School Loan Eligibility: Do You Make the Grade?

A federal school loan is a loan issued by the government to help students pay for higher education services. Eligibility requirements vary depending on the type of federal school loan you choose and the college you plan to attend.

General Eligibility Requirements

The college you plan to attend will ultimately determine your financial aid eligibility; however, most require that you:

  • are a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or have other eligible non-citizen documentation by Immigration and Naturalization Services
  • have a Social Security Number
  • have a high school diploma or GED (General Education Development) certificate
    demonstrate financial need for a federal school loan
  • guarantee that federal student loan aid will be used solely for educational purposes
  • be enrolled (at least half-time) and working toward a degree in an eligible program
  • register with the Selective Service Registration, if required
  • meet the academic and behavioral standards set by your college


To determine your eligibility, you will first fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This determines your EFC (Expected Family Contribution). The EFC tells how much money you or your family must contribute to your education, which, in turn, determines the amount of your federal school loan. If your EFC score is below the set figure, you could be eligible for a Federal Pell Grant.

Types of Federal School Loans

Eligibility requirements vary for each federal school loan. There are many types of federal financial aid options, including:

Federal Stafford - This is the most common federal school loan program. Its eligibility requirements are more lax than some other federal programs. If you are awarded the Stafford loan, interest payments do not begin until six months after graduation.

Federal Perkins - This federal school loan has stricter eligibility requirements than the Federal Stafford. It gives top priority to students with the most need of financial assistance. This federal school loan offers long grace periods and no fees. You do not have to make principal payments until nine months after graduation. 

Federal Parent PLUS - This federal school loan is borrowed by the parent(s) on behalf of their child. If you are considered an independent, you are ineligible. Loan repayment begins as soon as the funds are awarded to the borrower.

Federal Loan Limitations

Federal school loans have maximum limits and therefore often do not cover all education-related expenses. If your federal school loan funds fall short of your needs, there are alternative financial aid resources, such as Work-Study programs, scholarships, or private student loans.

How do I Apply?

You can apply for federal school loans online. Before you apply, check with your college's financial aid office for advice, eligibility requirements, or federal school loan updates. Choosing the right federal school loan to fit your needs is a big decision and one that should not be made in haste. So start early and choose wisely.


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