I have decided Sunday’s is my designated time for answering your questions should you send them to me via email, twitter, YouTube or the blog in the comments section. Last week, a student asked me the following:
Dear College Money Man,
I want to change majors, however I have already been in school three years, and want to know how long I will keep getting financial aid if I continue to be eligble.[sic]
To address this, its important to keep in mind that the limits on financial aid such as Pell Grants, and Stafford Loans are governed by different limit rules. Addressing the big picture issue of time left in school, it is important to think in terms of total credit hours earned, rather than years alone.
more after the jump
At the federal level, financial aid offices are mandated by law to cut your off aid completely at 180 semester hours (SH) while earning your bachelors degree. However, you will get several warnings before this. First, your local Office of Financial Aid (OFA), will review your status at 120 SH and make sure you are making satisfactory progress towards a degree. After this initial review, you will be placed on restricted status at around 150 SH. This means you will likely be required to only register for courses that are mandatory for your degree. In addition, each semester an advisor will have to sign off before your aid can be disbursed to you. Once you reach 180, thats it; your done with all forms of aid available until you earn your undergraduate degree.
At the State level, length of aid varies according to state budget issues and policy. In short, its up to each state how long you get their tuition waiver. In my own state of Illinois, the Illinois Monetary Award Program has gone from ten semesters of eligibility, down to eight due to budget constraints. So check with your OFA to find out what the state limits are.
Remember, Student loans also have limits; however they are also based on your year in college as well as your total amount borrowed. Go to the Department of Education website for the most up to date limit data to ensure accuracy. Also, check out the National Student Loan Data System to find out how much aid you have received as of your last semester to keep track.