Students in the United States who are interested in going to college and earning their degree can anticipate spending a lot of money to earn it. While some students may be fortunate enough to be able to pay for their tuition and other college expenses out of pocket, this isn't the case for millions of other students across the country.

To pay for school, these students typically have to apply for federal financial assistance in the form of a student loan. However, before you can apply, you have to check your eligibility and whether or not you qualify for a student loan. Then, you need to maintain that eligibility to keep your loan throughout your college career.

Basic Student Loan Eligibility

In order to qualify for a student loan, you must check your basic student loan eligibility at the FAFSA website. Before applying for federal financial assistance, it's important to understand that students are awarded money based on their individual and/or family's specific financial need. To be eligible, you'll also need to meet the following requirements:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen
  • If you're a male, you must be registered for Selective Service
  • Have a valid Social Security number
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in an eligible degree or certificate program
  • Be qualified to earn a degree or certificate (by having either your high school diploma or GED)
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress

In addition to meeting these basic eligibility requirements, you will also have to make sure that you're not ineligible. If you've committed a drug offense, then you will not be eligible to apply for student loans. If you are incarcerated or due to be incarcerated, you may also not be eligible depending on the details of your case. Also, if you have a judgement lien on a property, you will also not be eligible unless you make arrangements to pay off the debt.

Minimum Credit Hours for Student Loans

One of the basic eligibility requirements for federal student loans is that you are enrolled in or accepted for enrollment in an eligible degree or certificate program. Most colleges and universities throughout the U.S. – even private ones – are eligible to participate in financial aid programs.

However, you as the student must be taking or planning to take a minimum amount of credit hours in order to qualify. While the circumstances can vary from one person to another, in general, you need to be taking 12 credit hours per semester.

How to Apply for a Student Loan

Once you determine that you meet the basic eligibility requirements for FAFSA, you'll have to start the application process as soon as you can. Most students begin applying for a student loan after receiving their acceptance letter from the school that they want to attend. If you're relying on this student loan to help you pay for your tuition, head to the FAFSA website to start filling out your application.

In order to fill out the application correctly and thoroughly, it is best to have all the materials ready and by your side. First, determine if you are applying as an independent or as a dependent. If you are applying as an independent, you will need your own personal tax documents. If you are applying as a dependent, you'll need your parents' tax documents. Be sure to have the following:

  • Your Social Security number or Alien Registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen
  • Federal income tax returns, W-2s and other documents regarding information on earnings for either yourself or your parents
  • Records of investments for yourself or your parents
  • Records of untaxed income
  • An FSA ID to log in to the website
  • Your school's OPE ID, which can be found using the search tool on the FAFSA application
  • Your driver's license number

How to Maintain Student Loan Eligibility

After you've received a student loan for the first year of school, you will need to reapply for aid every year by filling out the FAFSA form again each time. You will have to maintain your student loan eligibility by meeting the same basic eligibility requirements that you were required to meet the first year you applied. After the first year, you must also meet satisfactory academic progress based on your school's requirements.

Satisfactory academic progress can mean a lot of different things. Ultimately, your GPA will need to be up to your school's standard, which you can check on your school's website or through the financial aid office.

You will also need to be taking enough credits and be on a path to graduation, taking into account your performance in various courses, whether you withdrew or did not complete any classes and whether or not any transfer credits have been accepted. If you've changed your major several times, this can impact your eligibility based on the condition of satisfactory academic progress.

Ways to Lose Your Eligibility

While you're in school, there are several ways to lose your student loan eligibility in addition to failing to maintain satisfactory academic progress. If you are counting on your student loans to carry you financially through your college years, then you'll want to do your best to avoid not qualifying based on the basic eligibility requirements that must be met each year. There are several ways to lose your eligibility for student loans, including:

  • Defaulting on a student loan from the past
  • Your status as an eligible noncitizen has been revoked
  • You've been convicted of a drug offense
  • You've been incarcerated or will be incarcerated
  • You've been convicted of a crime involving fraud to obtain student loans
  • You have a property that's subject to a judgement lien

Because so much can happen during four years (or more) in college, it's important that you make sure you've met the basic eligibility requirements each year and nothing has happened to jeopardize that.

What Happens if I Lose Student Loan Eligibility?

Sometimes, things over which you have absolutely no control can happen, especially if you're a dependent. While there are certain things you can try and avoid, like being arrested or doing poorly in your academics, mistakes can happen.

If you lose your student loan eligibility, there are ways to regain it depending on your individual situation. Depending on the reason you've lost your student loan eligibility, on the Federal Student Aid website there is specific information on how to repair it so that you can hopefully reapply for student aid.

Things to Consider

If you happen to lose your federal student loan eligibility, or you didn't receive as much aid as you were hoping to get, there are other ways to try and get money for college. In fact, before applying for a student loan, students should consider applying for scholarships or seeing if they can get grant money, which does not need to be paid back (unless there are extenuating circumstances).

You can also consider applying for private student loans, but keep in mind that these tend to have much stricter repayment terms with very high interest rates. Federal student loans also tend to have high interest rates as well, but repayment terms are a little more flexible, and they are typically able to work with you if you're having trouble making payments.

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