Financial Aid and Selective Service Registration: A Primer

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By Brian O'Connell

January 6, 2020

U.S. men between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register with the Selective Service System. If they do not register, they may lose eligibility for federal and state student financial aid. Women and transgender individuals who were born female are not required to register with Selective Service.

U.S. District Judge Gray Miller of the Southern District of Texas issued a ruling on February 22, 2019, finding that the Selective Service System is unconstitutional under equal protection grounds, now that women may serve in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, including combat roles.

If the Selective Service System does not appeal the ruling, Congress will need to either extend the Selective Service registration requirement to include women in addition to men or eliminate the Selective Service registration requirement for men.

Since the judge did not issue an injunction, the current system will be maintained until Congress acts.

Background on Selective Service and the Draft

While the U.S. military has had an all-volunteer model since 1973, the federal government reserves the right to reinstate the draft when Congress deems a foreign threat as being so pervasive, it would need to draft age-eligible Americans.

Part and parcel to that sentiment, President Jimmy Carter re-established the U.S. Selective Service System in 1980, in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan, which spread fears of war between the U.S. and Russia. Registration with Selective Service was deemed a way of having younger American men on call in the event a national emergency was triggered.

Under Selective Service, most U.S. men between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register for the draft within 30 days of turning 18-years of age. Immigrants between age 18 and 25 must register with Selective Service within 30 days of arriving in the U.S. Late registrations are accepted until age 26.

Women are not required to register with Selective Service. Exclusions also include male immigrants with student, visitor or diplomatic visas. The requirement for transgender Americans to register is based on the gender originally listed on their birth certificate, regardless of any subsequent changes in gender.

How to Sign Up for Selective Service

Thus, if you’re required to register with Selective Service and are between the ages of 18 and 25, or are approaching that age range, you should register with Selective Service to preserve your eligibility for student financial aid.

The good news is that signing up for Selective Service is a user-friendly process.

You can register online at the U.S. Selective Service web site by completing an online form.

That form asks for specific information, including your gender, name, address, Social Security number and email address.

If you wish to submit a paper-based registration form, use the web site’s “fillable registration” form, complete it, print it, sign it and mail it to Selective Service System, P.O. Box 94739, Palatine, IL 60094-4739.

Selective Service registration forms are also available at any U.S. Post Office.

Submit the form and, within a few weeks, you’ll receive a registration acknowledgment from Selective Service, along with your card showing you officially have registered, which will include a Selective Service registration number and a “change of information” form. You’ll need to change or add any new or incorrect information (i.e., you just moved and changed addresses) and resend it to Selective Service.

Keep your Selective Service registration card easily accessible in the event you ever need it to affirm that you registered.

Once you have registered with Selective Service, you’re now eligible for federal student financial aid (including Federal Pell Grants, Federal Work Study, Federal Direct Stafford Loans and Federal Direct PLUS Loans) and state-funded student financial aid in most U.S. states. It’s also worth noting that Selective Service accepts early registrations as early as 17 years and three months of age.

There’s an even easier way to register for Selective Service. You can sign up by checking the “Register me” box on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You’ll need to be at least 18-years of age to do so.

Does Filing a FAFSA Force Students to Serve in the Military? 

Receipt of federal and state financial aid for college does not obligate the recipient to join the U.S. Armed Forces. Nor does registering with Selective Service. Rather, if a draft were instituted, all men of eligible age would be subject to the draft, regardless of whether they had received student aid or not. 

Congress is unlikely to reinstate the draft, as it would be politically unpopular. Moreover, a draft is not necessary, as the all-volunteer military currently has more than 1 million active-duty servicemembers. 

The only form of federal student aid that requires a commitment to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces is the ROTC Scholarship. College students can receive a ROTC Scholarship for one year without agreeing to serve in the U.S. military. ROTC Scholarship recipients are, however, required to take military science courses and participate in officer training and drills during the academic year and summer break. If they decide to continue receiving a ROTC Scholarship after the first year, they must commit to serve for up to four years in the U.S. Armed Forces. 

College graduates who have federal student loans may receive loan forgiveness if they choose to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces. The amount of student loan repayment assistance depends on the branch of military service.

If You’re Age 26 or Older

Men born in 1960 or later who did not register with Selective Service are ineligible for student financial aid, both at the federal and state level.

The loss of financial aid eligibility can be appealed to the college financial aid office if the student was not required to register or if the student can demonstrate through a preponderance of evidence that their failure to register was not knowing and willful.

In that event, you’ll first need to obtain a status information letter from the Selective Service.

You can get one online or by calling 1-847-688-6888 or by writing to Selective Service System, PO Box 94638, Palatine, IL 60094-4638 and asking for a status information letter.

In addition to providing a copy of the status information letter to the college financial aid administrator, you’ll also need to explain the circumstances that prevented you from registering for Selective Service. Common reasons include illness, injury, incarceration or military service for the full duration of the registration period.

Within a few weeks, you’ll hear from the college’s financial aid administrator on whether your appeal is approved.

A good place to start:

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