Home Financial Aid for Criminal Justice Students

Financial Aid for Criminal Justice Students

Now that you’ve decided to pursue a degree in criminal justice, how will you pay for it? The costs of college include tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, and perhaps even transportation, parking, or childcare.

Fortunately, several financial aid options exist that may help you afford college, including scholarships and grants, which don’t need to be paid back. Other types include work-study, which allows you to earn income working on campus, and student loans.

Financial aid can come from federal, state, school, or private sources. This page will discuss three ways to finance your criminal justice education: loans, grants, and work-study programs.

Federal Financial Aid

This page will cover three types of federal student aid:

  • Loans: money borrowed from the federal government or private sources that students pay back, with interest, after graduation;
  • Grants: education dollars given primarily based on financial need that students need not pay back;
  • Work-study programs: programs that provide part-time employment to enrolled students, who can use the income to pay college expenses.

You should determine whether your selected program participates in federal student aid programs before you apply; most accredited criminal justice programs across the country do, although financial aid application processes may differ.

Federal Student Loans

Loans are a type of financial aid that must be repaid with interest. A federal student loan is offered and administered by the federal government, and the student must pay back the borrowed money at a low, fixed interest rate. Loans are provided to dependent and independent criminal justice students who are enrolled (or who are planning to enroll) at least half time in school.

Federal student loans have the following benefits:

  • fixed interest rates;
  • flexible repayment plans;
  • the option to consolidate;
  • potential for cancellation, discharge, and forgiveness (under certain conditions);
  • options to postpone payment in situations such as returning to school or experiencing financial hardship.

Four types of federal student loans are offered to criminal justice students:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans: sometimes referred to as Stafford Loans or Direct Stafford Loans, provides subsidized interest while student is in school
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans: offered based on need with interest that accrues during school
  • Direct PLUS Loans: cover education expenses not covered by other financial aid;
  • Direct Consolidation Loans: combine existing loans into one with a single monthly payment and fixed interest rate


Type of LoanDescriptionWho is Eligible?Total Loan Amount
Direct SubsidizedLimited amount, need-based loans; interest paid by the government while you are in schoolUndergraduate students enrolled at least half time in school, based on financial needNo more than $23,000, may not exceed financial need
Direct UnsubsidizedLoans not based on need; interest accumulates while you are in school and is added to the principalUndergraduate, graduate, or professional degree students enrolled at least half time in school$57,500 for undergraduates, $138,500 for graduate or professional students
Direct PLUSOffered to parents of undergraduate students or to graduate/professional students; requires credit checkGraduate and professional degree students; parents of dependent, undergraduate students; must have good creditCost of attendance (determined by the school) minus any other financial aid received
Direct Consolidation Combines multiple federal education loans into one loan, with a single monthly payment; interest rates are averaged to arrive at a fixed rateStudents with multiple loans who have graduated, left school, or dropped below half-time enrollmentAll your federal education loans combined


Federal Grants

A federal grant is doesn’t have to be repaid and is based on need. The following federal student aid programs are based on need:

  • Federal Pell Grant: for students with demonstrated financial need, does not require repayment (except under certain circumstances*).
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): offered by individual schools to students with exceptional financial need. Not all schools participate.


Type of GrantDescriptionWho is Eligible?Grant Amount
Federal Pell GrantAwarded to undergraduate students, amount depends on need and the cost of attendanceUndergraduates with demonstrated financial need who have not earned bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degrees. Students enrolled in post-baccalaureate teacher certification programs may be eligible.Up to $6,195 for 2019–20 award year
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)Administered by financial aid offices at participating school, not all schools participateUndergraduates with exceptional financial need, who have not earned  bachelor’s or graduate degrees. Those with Federal Pell Grants receive priority.Up to $4,000 a year

*Note that if you withdraw from school, you may have to pay back part or all of a federal grant.


Federal Work-Study Program

A Federal Work Study program provides on- or off-campus jobs for enrolled students with demonstrated financial need, to earn money for college. Check with the financial aid office to find out whether your school participates.

For criminal justice students, work-study opportunities are likely to emphasize civic education and relate to the field. You may work for your school on campus or off campus for a private nonprofit organization or a public agency. If you attend a for-profit school, there may be additional restrictions on the types of jobs you can do. Expect to earn at least the current federal minimum wage, though you may earn more depending on work you do and the skill set needed.

How to Apply for Financial Aid

Once you’ve narrowed a potential criminal justice program, begin applying for financial aid as soon as possible. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step in this process. This free application is used by nearly all two- and four-year colleges and universities for federal, state, and college-funded student aid.

Eilgibility criteria for federal student aid include:

  • a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate,
  • enrollment in an eligible criminal justice degree or certificate program,
  • Social Security number,
  • satisfactory grades,
  • S. citizenship (or U.S. National, or Green Card),
  • completion of the FAFSA form online.

How to Fill Out the FAFSA

Filling out the FAFSA form online can be somewhat tricky, many resources are available to help. You can even fill out the form on the mobile app “myStudentAid,” which is available for iPhone or Android.

Federal student aid is based on your or your family’s ability to pay, and your answers on the form determine whether you are considered a dependent or independent student. Dependent students report their own and their parents’ financial information while independent students report their own information and that of their spouses, if they’re married.

Even if you don’t live with your parents, if you’re considered a dependent, you still must provide the requested parental information, and a parent must sign it.

How to Submit the FAFSA

You should submit your FAFSA form as soon as possible. Most schools award financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis. Follow these steps:

  • Gather all the documents you will need to apply:
    • Social security numbers,
    • drivers’ licenses,
    • financial information, including Internal Revenue Service (IRS) information and tax returns, income statements, and records of bank accounts, investments, and real estate.
  • Create an FSA account and ID — a username and password that allows you to complete the FAFSA form electronically. If you’re a dependent, one of your parents will also need an FSA account and ID.
  • Provide your basic information, including demographics, on the FAFSA form.
  • List the schools that should receive the FAFSA information.
  • Answer the dependency status questions.
  • Complete the parent demographics section.
  • Supply your financial and tax information.
  • Sign the FAFSA form and submit it.

How Accreditation Can Affect Your Financial Aid

An accredited school is one that meets certain educational standards that help ensure your education meets specific criteria in your chosen field. If you attend a criminal justice school that isn’t accredited, you might not be eligible for financial aid, and your credits may not be transferable to other schools. Some employers may not hire graduates from schools that aren’t accredited. You can check prospective schools’ accreditation statuses through The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Private Loans

Private student loans are nonfederal loans offered by private lenders such as banks, credit unions, and state or state-affiliated organizations. The lender sets the terms and conditions, and these loans generally are more expensive than federal loans. Here are some points to consider:

  • Some private loans may require repayment while you are still in school.
  • Private loans can have variable or fixed interest rates, which may be higher or lower than federal loan rates.
  • Private loans may require a history of established credit, a good credit score, or a cosigner.
  • Private loans may be unsubsidized, meaning that you may be responsible for all the interest that accrues while you are in school.
  • Private loans cannot be included in a Federal Direct Consolidation, but your loan may be refinanced.

Be sure you completely understand the terms of a private student loan, so be sure to discuss all this with your lender. If you have difficulty getting the answers you need, you can also reach out to the U.S. Department of Education’s online FSA Feedback System or contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Financial Aid for Veterans and Servicemembers

If you are serving or have served in the U.S. Armed Services, are a spouse or dependent, or are a surviving family member, you may be eligible for one of several veteran and servicemember benefits, including:

Loan Forgiveness Programs

Forgiveness of a student loan means that you may not have to repay some or all of your loan. You may be able to have your federal student loan forgiven, canceled, or discharged if you qualify because of your job or other special circumstances. Also, if you took out a federal direct loan and you work for the government or a not-for-profit organization, you may qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which forgives the balance on your loans if you have made 120 monthly payments and work full-time for a qualified employer.

Paying for the Police Academy

If your criminal justice school has a degree program (such as an associate degree), you should be eligible for federal financial aid. If your courses are not part of a classes-for-credit degree program, you may be eligible for private loans that cover vocational training in criminal justice. There are many noncredit training programs for police recruits, and law enforcement and criminal justice personnel. The Career Training Smart Option Student Loan pays for professional training and trade certificate courses. Additionally, some police departments pay for police academy training in order to meet their communities’ law enforcement needs.

Other Types of Financial Aid

Other types of financial aid exist to help lower or pay for the costs of your criminal justice education:

  • Tax credits: The IRS provides the following tax benefits for earning your education:
  • School-sponsored opportunities: Some schools offer their own financial aid. Once you have decided on a criminal justice school, check with its financial aid office to learn what’s available.
  • Many private organizations offer scholarships and grants. Research sources of private financial aid for criminal justice majors in your community
  • Personal loans are offered by private lenders; these depend on your credit score and other criteria.

Financial Aid Tips

It is important to be prepared for unexpected expenses for school.  Keep calm and start your financial aid search early. Be sure to revisit and review the resources and options listed above.

As a recap, here are a few ways to reduce the stress of applying for financial aid:

  • Choose the college(s) you want to attend carefully
  • Do plenty of research – begin your search as early as possible, because you will need to learn many new financial aid terms, and understand repayment policies
  • Get organized – gather all the documents you might need, collect information, requirements, and conditions, and get your parents involved early
  • Schedule plenty of time – it may take many hours to fill out the FAFSA® form, and any other grant or scholarship forms you wish to apply for, so plan enough time and know the deadline(s)
  • Keep in close contact with the financial aid office(s), don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. You may feel like you are being annoying, but it is important to be confident, assertive and advocate for yourself.