Can You Get Financial Aid With a Felony?

Convicted felons have financial aid opportunities to help pay for college both while in prison and after being released.

portrait of Lauren Ward
by Lauren Ward

Published on June 23, 2022

Reviewed by R.J. Weiss

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Can You Get Financial Aid With a Felony?
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Rebuilding your life after a criminal conviction can seem tough. But if attending college has been on your mind as a way to move forward, many options are available to help you pay for those upcoming costs. In fact, once you're released from prison, there are very few restrictions on the types of financial aid you're eligible for, including both student loans and free money such as grants and scholarships.

Can You Go to College With a Felony?

Yes. There are no legal restrictions that prevent you from attending college with a felony record. Each individual college or university makes admissions decisions. A criminal history may lower your chances of being accepted if you're aiming for a more competitive school. You're more likely to get accepted by a school with a strong acceptance rate, such as a community college. Then, when you're ready with a solid transcript, you could transfer from community college to a university.

Qualifying for federal financial aid isn't out of the question. There are several options to receive free money for most ex-felons to attend college, depending on the nature of the offense.

What Financial Aid Is Available to Felons?

Explore all of your financial aid options to make college as accessible and affordable as possible.

Pell Grants for Felons

The Second Chance Pell experiment provides grants for felons who are still in prison. About 64% of individuals in a federal or state prison may be eligible for this program, which offers up to $6,495 in financial aid for the 2022-2023 school year. And since it's a grant, you won't need to repay the money.

Scholarships for Felons

Scholarships are another way to pay for college using free money. Many scholarship programs do not exclude felons, so it's worth researching options for which you otherwise qualify. You may also search for non-profits that specifically offer scholarships to felons attending college.

Student Loans for Felons

There are two types of student loans available for college attendees: federal and private. Most felons are eligible for federal student loans once they're released from prison. The exception is if the offense was an involuntary civil commitment or a sexual offense.

Private student loans also don't have many restrictions based on criminal history. Instead, lenders want to see consistent income, employment, and an established credit score. You could get a co-signer to help you secure a private loan.

Federal Work-Study for Felons

Another option to pay for college is to get a federal work-study job. These part-time job opportunities are available as part of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) financial aid package. Your school must participate in the Federal Work-Study Program, and jobs are usually on campus.

Your Financial Aid Eligibility Depends on Your Felony Type

Determine your eligibility for student financial aid based on the type of conviction.

Financial Aid With an Assault Conviction

Eligibility restrictions on federal financial aid are removed once you're released from prison for an assault conviction.

Financial Aid With a Theft Conviction

Like assault convictions, theft convictions do not impede your ability to qualify for financial aid once you're out of prison.

Financial Aid With a Drug Conviction

Previously, a drug conviction would prevent you from receiving financial aid. New rules, however, allow felons with a drug conviction to apply for federal aid. You do have to fill out an additional worksheet, but don't let it scare you off — according to the Department of Education, it won't hurt your chances of receiving aid.

Financial Aid With a Sexual Offense

Financial aid is not available for convictions involving a forcible or nonforcible sexual offense that requires an involuntary civil commitment after incarceration.

Frequently Asked Questions About Financial Aid With a Felony

Can felons receive money from FAFSA?

Yes, most felons are eligible to receive financial aid through FAFSA. You typically need to be out of prison to be eligible for most FAFSA programs. The exception is the Second Chance Pell experiment. You can start applying for federal aid while still in prison since the processing period takes several months.

What disqualifies you from receiving financial aid?

Felons with a conviction involving a forcible or nonforcible sexual offense are not eligible for financial aid if they're required to undergo an involuntary civil commitment after their prison sentence.

Other convictions, including drug, assault, and theft, do not have eligibility restrictions that prevent you from applying for federal student aid.

Can felons receive Pell grants?

Yes, there are two types of Pell grants for felons. The first is the Second Chance Pell experiment that is available to individuals still in prison. Most formerly incarcerated individuals can also apply for traditional Pell grants through FAFSA.

Can felons get student loan forgiveness?

Yes, felons are eligible to participate in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. You must meet the following requirements to qualify:

  • Work full-time for a federal, state, local, or tribal government or non-profit organization
  • Make 120 student loan payments during that employment period
  • Have direct federal loans
  • Use an income-driven repayment plan for your student loans

Does FAFSA do a background check?

FAFSA does not run a background check as part of the application process. But you do need to truthfully answer questions about your criminal history. Question #23 on the FAFSA asks about past drug convictions while receiving financial aid, but this doesn't disqualify your application, and it doesn't impact your expected contribution amount.

However, if your record has been expunged, you're not required to report those convictions.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute professional financial advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Readers of this website should contact a professional advisor before making decisions about financial issues.