FAFSA • Financial Aid •

December 20, 2021

Does the FAFSA register me with Selective Service?

Do you have to register for the draft to get financial aid? Learn about changes regarding Selective Service and FAFSA eligibility.

selective service system fafsa

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has a lot of questions. Many are about your personal and financial information, but others may not seem to make much sense.

Case in point: Question 22 on the FAFSA asks you about your registration status with Selective Service. 

Below, we’ll talk more about the Selective Service System, why we have it, if (and how) you have to sign up, and the potential penalties for not registering—both in general and for your financial aid.

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What is Selective Service?

The US government established the Selective Service System in case it felt the need to draft citizens into the military for war.

Selective Service

All males between ages 18–25 (except for people meeting certain exemptions that we lay out later) must register with Selective Service or risk legal consequences.

According to the Selective Service System, this ensures fair and equitable drafting if the government, well, institutes a draft.

But the question is, why do we have a draft system if there hasn’t been a draft in decades?

A short history lesson reveals the answer:

Why do we have Selective Service?

After years of avoiding it, the US officially joined WWI in 1917 when it declared war on Germany.

However, not enough men volunteered for the armed forces to make the US military a strong fighting force in Europe.

So, Congress passed the Selective Service Act in 1917. This gave the president—Woodrow Wilson at the time—the power to draft soldiers.

After WW1, Selective Service drafting continued in small amounts. It ramped up again for the Korean War, although it exempted men who served in WWII.

Then, drafting ramped up yet again for the Vietnam War—perhaps the most well-known US military conflict when it comes to issues surrounding the draft.

The Selective Service registration requirement paused after the Vietnam War ended in 1972. However, President Jimmy Carter reinstated it in 1980 in response to the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan.

It has remained mostly the same ever since. 

The US military has been a 100% volunteer force since 1973—there hasn’t been an actual draft since the Vietnam War.

Some discussed reviving the draft for the Iraq War, but most public opinion was against it. 

Today, Selective Service registration isn’t enforced too strongly, but there are still severe legal and other consequences for failing to register. 

Regardless of arguments for and against it, the system remains in place in case the US needs to expand armed services numbers.

Who has to sign up for the draft?

In general, most men ages 18–25 in the US have to sign up. 

This includes male citizens and non-citizen male immigrants. Transgender individuals assigned male at birth but have since changed their gender to female must also register.

As for the timetable, eligible US citizens have 30 days from their 18th birthday to sign up. Immigrants must sign up within 30 days of entering the US.

Selective Service registration requirements

Even if you don’t like the draft, you still have to register. However, you can file a claim for exemption if a draft is actually instituted. 

Dual nationals must also register for the draft, whether or not they live in the US.

All of this assumes these people don’t fall into any of the exempted categories below.

Exempt groups include:

  • Women

  • Active duty male US military members—if out before age 26, they must register within 20 days after leaving

  • Military officer procurement students at approved institutions—if out before age 26, they must register within 20 days after leaving

  • Cadets and midshipmen in the Coast Guard or approved service academies

  • Physically or mentally handicapped individuals who are confined to a home, hospital, or institution—if released before age 26, they must register within 20 days following release

  • Patients hospitalized or institutionalized for medical reasons—if released before age 26, they must register within 20 days

  • Legal nonimmigrants who hold current nonimmigrant visas

  • Seasonal agricultural laborers

  • Incarcerated individuals—if released before age 26, they must register within 20 days following release

  • Transgender individuals assigned female at birth that have changed their gender to male

All that said, women may be required to register in the future. 

In 2020, a congressional panel recommended expanding the draft to include women who are 18–25 that don’t fall into other categories listed above (such as having a physical or mental handicap). 

Lastly, men over age 25 don’t have to register. However, if they weren’t registered previously, they must provide documentation regarding why they were never registered. For example, if they moved to the US at age 26, they’d need to provide paperwork proving that.

How do I register with Selective Service?

For aid years 2021–2022 and 2022–2023, you can register with Selective Service on the FAFSA. However, as we’ll get into below, that option will soon disappear.

Aside from the FAFSA, you can register online, by mail, or in person.

To register online, you’ll head to the Select Service System’s website and fill out a short registration form by providing your basic personal information. This includes things like your name, address, gender, date of birth, and Social Security number. 

That website has a printable registration form with the same general information. 

You can also pick up one of these forms at your local post office—if you don’t have a Social Security number, this is the method you should use. You can then fill out the form and drop it off or mail it in.

You should receive an acknowledgment letter and registration card in the mail within 90 days of registering with Selective Service. This is your proof of Selective Service registration, so don’t lose it!

Do I have to register with Selective Service to receive financial aid?

For most of Selective Service’s history, you needed to register to be eligible to receive federal financial aid.

If you failed to register by age 26 and you weren’t exempt, the Department of Education disqualified you from most forms of federal aid. That includes certain student loans, grants, and work-study programs.

Parents, however, have never needed to meet this requirement to take out Parent PLUS loans. If they aren’t registered, but you are, your aid eligibility is still safe.

For this reason, Question 22 on FAFSA asks you if you’re already registered. 

If not, it lets you automatically register for the draft while filling out the FAFSA, although you can still turn down their offer and register separately online if you’d like.

However, this is soon going away. 

FAFSA Question 22

In 2020, Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act as part of the larger Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.

This new law ditches the requirement for males to register with Selective Service to qualify for Title IV aid—aka federal aid.

It also gets rid of the restriction on aid for students with drug convictions, which is covered in Question 23 on FAFSA. 

The requirement and FAFSA question are being phased out over several years:

  • 2021-2022 award year: Questions 22 and 23 remain on the FAFSA, but Selective Service registration is no longer required for aid eligibility.

  • 2022-2023 award year: This is the same as the 2021–2022 award year, and it adds some language stating further action from the school and aid applicants isn’t necessary.

  • 2023-2024 award year: Questions 22 and 23 are removed entirely from the FAFSA, and you’re no longer able to register with Selective Service this way. All language discussing these matters is also removed.

Still, some states may require Selective Service registration for state-based financial aid. 

In some states, eligible students must be registered with Selective Service to attend public colleges and universities as well.

Beyond federal aid, though, you still must register with Selective Service if you’re not in an exempt group listed earlier. Otherwise, as we’re about to see, you could face severe legal consequences.

Besides financial aid, what happens if I don’t register for the draft if I’m not exempt?

Failing to sign up for the draft if you aren’t exempt carries some harsh punishments. 

Anyone who fails to register or “who knowingly counsels, aids, or abets another to fail to comply with the registration requirement” faces felony charges—with fines of up to $250,000 and a prison term of up to 5 years.

Penalties aren’t often prosecuted nowadays. In April 2019, USA Today stated that only 20 men have ever been criminally charged for failing to register since President Carter’s 1980 reinstatement.

Of those 20, 14 were convicted. The last indictment—which happened in 1986—was dismissed before it could make it to trial.

None of this is to say you should avoid registering, though. It’s the law.

Plus, failing to register can have other consequences, whether or not you’re punished through the legal system.

For one, registration is mandatory to be eligible for federal government jobs and some state government roles. Plus, various state benefits and privileges—such as driver’s licenses—might require draft registration.

How do I request a Selective Service waiver?

If you believe you should be exempt from registration, you’ll need to prove that to the government by filling out a waiver.

Selective Service waiver

To do so, you’ll need to request a Status Information Letter using the SIL form on this page of the Selective Service website. You’ll have to provide detailed information on why you’re ineligible, along with copies of supporting documentation (not the originals).

If approved, you’ll get your SIL, which indicates why you weren’t required to register.

Keep the original version of this somewhere safe. Then, you can make copies of it whenever an organization—such as a government employer—needs to know why you never registered. 

As for if a draft is actually instituted, Selective Service says that men can file claims for exemptions, postponements, or deferments. 

They don’t provide much information on what that looks like, but they would most likely create (or possibly already have created) online and printable forms. 

You would submit the claim itself without evidence—Selective Service would then get back to you with further instructions on what info they need, when they need it, and where to send it to.

If your exemption is denied and you’re still selected for service, you can appeal that to a Selective Service Appeal Board. 

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Selective Service: It’s the law, but financial aid rules are easing

Although there hasn’t been a draft since the Vietnam War, Selective Service registration remains a legal requirement if you’re not in an exempt category. 

If you’re required to register, it’s a good idea to do so, even if you disagree with the system. They may not enforce the penalties often, but they still could at any time.

However, at the very least, failing to register won’t risk your college financial aid in the future.

For more answers to your financial aid questions, check out our financial aid FAQs.

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