What Criminal Charges Affect Student Financial Aid?

Simple possession of drugs can eliminate your access to financial aid.

The only criminal charges with the potential to impact student financial aid are drug charges if they are received while the student is on federal financial aid, and only then if the student is convicted. Those convicted of other felonies, including murder, robbery and embezzlement, are eligible for financial aid as long as they meet the criteria to qualify. Those with one drug conviction, including a misdemeanor conviction, will be temporarily barred from receiving financial aid. Additional drug convictions can keep a student from permanently receiving aid.


Conviction of Possession

A conviction for drug possession, including possession of drug paraphernalia, garners increasingly serious financial aid restrictions with each conviction. The restrictions apply only to students attending school on federal financial aid when the charge was incurred. A first conviction prohibits the student from getting federal financial aid for one year from the conviction date. A second conviction increases the restriction to two years. Subsequent convictions for possession remove federal aid for an indefinite period, typically until after the student completes a federally acceptable substance abuse program.


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Selling Drugs

Just as the court system typically views drug dealing more harshly than drug use or possession, the financial aid penalty for drug sales is more harsh than for drug possession. A student convicted of selling drugs the first time can expect to be banned from receiving federal financial aid for two years, starting at the conviction date. Students who pick up a second conviction for selling drugs are banned indefinitely from getting federal help for college or trade school. Eligibility can be reinstated if the student completes a substance abuse program. As in the case of possession, students are only prohibited from aid if their sales charge was incurred while they were enrolled in college and using federal financial aid.


Attending Anyway

Disqualification due to drug convictions only applies to federal aid. Students may still be eligible for state aid, regional scholarships and other financial awards. In addition, students can sometimes attend college on a self pay program despite any criminal convictions. They simply will not receive federally funded financial aid to do so, until their eligibility is reinstated.



The U.S. Department of Education requires students receiving financial aid convicted of a drug crime to notify their school's financial aid office immediately. A letter of aid revocation will be sent to the student with advice on how to become reinstated. Exceptions to the mandated time frames include having the conviction reversed, expunged or reduced to less than three possession convictions or two sale convictions.