After getting an associate degree, many two-year graduates continue on to complete a bachelor's degree. While both are undergraduate degrees, a bachelor's degree counts as the first degree completed for the purposes of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly called FAFSA. This means you can get your associate degree without worrying that you are jeopardizing your chance at a four-year degree, but there are FAFSA limitations that apply to the number of credits and semesters you have taken, regardless of whether or not you graduated.
Funding an Associate Degree
Associate degrees are often offered by vocational or community colleges, which generally charge lower tuition than four-year colleges or universities. Many schools offering two-year degrees have transfer agreements that allow students to receive full credit for their associate degree toward a bachelor's degree at another school. This can make an associate degree a financially attractive option. Students are eligible to apply for the FAFSA and receive financial aid to help them pay for their associate degree.
Continuing with a Bachelor's Degree
After graduating with an associate degree, students continue to be eligible for financial aid and should continue to file a FAFSA. As far as the FAFSA is concerned, a bachelor's degree must be completed before you are counted as having completed your first degree. This is good news, because you can still be considered for a Pell Grant, as long as you meet all other criteria. After graduating with your first bachelor's degree, you are no longer eligible for a Pell Grant.
Financial Aid Maximums
As of the 2012 to 2013 school year, federal financial aid guidelines have become stricter. The previous maximum of 18 semesters of Pell Grant have been reduced to a maximum of 12 lifetime semesters, and is retroactively effective. Additionally, there is a maximum for how much you can borrow in student loans. For the 2011 to 2012 period, the total undergraduate borrowing maximum was $31,000 for dependent students, and $57,500 for independent students. Schools must assess students annually to insure that they are making satisfactory academic progress in order to continue receiving the aid they are otherwise qualified for. This includes reviewing a student's GPA, the number of credits attempted, and the percentage of credits completed.
Appealing a Financial Aid Decision
If you have been denied financial aid, you may be able to appeal the decision. Contact your school's financial aid office directly to find out their procedure for an appeal. If you can prove that you can complete your degree with an additional semester of aid, this is one example for which your appeal may be successful. You can also appeal suspension of your aid if you had unusual circumstances that caused you to do poorly one semester. If your appeal is warranted and you do not have a history of appeals, chances are good you will be able to get additional aid.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education: Two-Thirds of Students Get Financial Aid, Federal Report Says
- South Dakota School of Mines & Technology: Satisfactory Academic Progress & Federal Student Aid
- US Department of Education - Financial Aid on the Web: Changes Made To The Title IV Student Aid Programs By The Recently Enacted Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012
- Department of Education - Student Aid on the Web: The Guide to Federal Student Aid
Sara Mahuron specializes in adult/higher education, parenting, budget travel and personal finance. She earned an M.S. in adult/organizational learning and leadership, as well as an Ed.S. in educational leadership, both from the University of Idaho. Mahuron also holds a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in international studies-business and economics.