What are the effects of a drug conviction on my eligibility for federal financial aid?

November 24, 2014


A drug conviction on your record has numerous effects, some of which you may not realize when thinking about committing or pleading guilty to a drug-related offense. A conviction for a drug-related offense can negatively affect your ability to obtain federal financial aid to pursue a college education. Persons convicted of drug trafficking or possession under federal or state law while receiving federal financial aid may be ineligible to receive federal student aid including grants, loans and work-study programs. 20 U.S.C. § 1091(r)(1) of the Higher Education Act provides that any student who is convicted of a drug-related charge while enrolled in a higher education program and receiving federal financial aid faces delay or discontinuation of his or her financial aid. This restriction applies equally to misdemeanor or felony drug related convictions, and provides for escalating consequences depending on the number and type of convictions.

Eligibility for financial aid may be suspended if a drug-related offense occurred while you were receiving federal financial aid. If your eligibility for financial aid is suspended due to a drug-related offense, it is possible to re-gain eligibility by completing an approved drug rehabilitation program or by passing two unannounced drug tests.

A drug rehabilitation program is “approved” if it satisfies at least one of the following:

  • Qualified to receive funds directly or indirectly from a federal, state or local government program or federally or state-licensed insurance company.
  • Administered or recognized by a federal, state, or local government agency or court.
  • Administered or recognized by a federally or state-licensed hospital, health clinic or medical doctor.

If eligibility for federal financial aid is re-gained either through rehabilitation or by the passing of two unannounced drug tests, it is crucial that you notify the financial aid office at your educational institution as soon as possible. It is YOUR responsibility.

If, however, you are convicted of a drug-related offense after your FAFSA is submitted, you may lose any eligibility for aid that you already had and you may be liable to return any aid to the government that you received during the period of time in which you were ineligible to receive financial aid.

A student regains eligibility the day after the period of ineligibility ends or when he or she successfully completes a qualified drug rehabilitation program. Further convictions will make the student ineligible again. Students denied eligibility for an indefinite period can regain it only after successfully completing a rehabilitation program.

The Department of Education recommends that everyone fill out a FAFSA, even if you are ineligible to receive aid due to a conviction of a drug-related offense. When completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, a question asks if the student has ever been convicted of a drug related offense. Failure to answer the question will automatically disqualify the student from receiving federal aid. Answering the question falsely, if discovered, could result in fines, imprisonment or both. Depending on your answer, you may be required to fill out an additional worksheet to determine eligibility. HERE WE MAYBE NEED A LINK TO THE WORKSHEET.

How long could I be ineligible for federal financial aid?

If you are convicted of an offense involving the possession of a controlled substance the Ineligibility period is as follows:

First offense: 1 year from the date of conviction

Second offense: 2 years from the date of conviction

Third offense: Indefinite

If you are convicted of an offense involving the sale of a controlled substance, the Ineligibility period is as follows:

First offense: 2 years from the date of conviction

Second offense: Indefinite

What are the effects of a drug conviction on my eligibility for state financial aid in Massachusetts?

Convictions in the Commonwealth count only if they were for an offense that occurred during a period of enrollment for which the student was receiving federal aid. A conviction does not count if it was reversed, set aside or removed from the student’s record or if the conviction occurred when the student was a juvenile (before age 18) unless the student was tried as an adult.

Massachusetts does not have state-specific legislation addressing this issue and thus follows the federal rules. The Massachusetts Office of Student Financial Assistance requires that students be eligible for Title IV funds in order to receive state financial assistance. Title IV funds include federal loans and grants and funds obtained through the federal work-study program. Students in Massachusetts with drug convictions are therefore being denied state financial aid.

What are the effects of a drug conviction on my eligibility for state financial aid in New Hampshire?

In New Hampshire, students must be eligible for federal financial aid in order to receive state financial aid. This policy has been in place since 1976. Students in New Hampshire with drug convictions are therefore not receiving financial aid. Therefore, New Hampshire, like Massachusetts, follows the federal rules for students with drug convictions.

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