Male students who fail to register with Selective Service before turning age 26 are ineligible for Federal student loan and grant programs, including Pell Grants, Federal Work Study, and Stafford Loans. (Parents who want to borrow a PLUS loan do not have to satisfy the registration requirement.) Several states have also made Selective Service registration a prerequisite for state financial aid and for matriculation at public colleges and universities.
Even if you disagree with the requirement, you should register. Failure to register can have a serious negative impact on your ability to obtain a driver’s license, qualify for financial aid, pursue an education, or obtain employment.
If you are at least 18 years old and have not yet reached your 26th birthday, you can register by checking the appropriate box on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). (Note: If you are not yet 18, your data will not be transmitted to Selective Service and you will not be registered.) You can also register online at the Selective Service web site.
Additional information on this topic may be found on the Selective Service web site in the registration information section. (See also 34 CFR 668.37.) The Selective Service site includes a form that may be used to check a man’s Selective Service registration. Registration may also be verified by calling 1-888-655-1825. The results will include the selective service number and the date registered.
Who Must Register?
Male US citizens (regardless of where they live) and male permanent resident aliens living in the US who were born after December 31, 1959 are required to register with Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday (30 days before and after). If you fail to register during this time period, you may submit a late registration up until your 26th birthday.
Male non-citizens (including illegal aliens, legal permanent residents, seasonal agricultural workers, and refugees) who take up residency in the US before their 26th birthday are required to register. All relevant INS forms (e.g., the application for Resident Alien status, I-485, and so on) include a clear statement regarding the requirement to register.
Dual nationals of the US and another country are required to register regardless of where they live.
Conscientious objectors are required to register. If a draft is instituted, they will have an opportunity to file a claim for exemption based on their religious or moral objections. But they must nevertheless register with Selective Service.
Disabled men who can move about independently in public with or without assistance must register with Selective Service, even if their disability would disqualify them from military service.
Members of the Reserve and National Guard who are not on full-time active duty must register. Men attending the Merchant Marine Academy must register. Men who attempt to enlist and are rejected before reaching age 26 must register.
Who Is Not Required to Register?
Men born from March 29, 1957 to December 31, 1959 were never required to register because the Selective Service program was not in operation at the time they turned 18. The requirement to register was reinstated in 1980 and applies to all men born on or after January 1, 1960 (50 USC 453). Although men born before March 29, 1957 were required to register, failure to register makes one ineligible for student aid only if one was born on or after January 1, 1960.
Other reasons why a student might not have been required to register include:
- Men who are hospitalized, institutionalized, or incarcerated are not required to register during their confinement.
- Men who are serving in the military on full-time active duty are not required to register. Men attending the service academies are also not required to register.
- Disabled men who were continually confined to a residence, hospital or institution are not required to register.
However, if they are released before their 26th birthday they must register within 30 days of their release.
Other exceptions include:
- Non-immigrants visiting the US on student or visitor visas and men who are part of a diplomatic or trade mission and their families.
- Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Republic of Palau.
- Noncitizens who first entered the US after turning age 26.
- Noncitizens who entered the US as lawful non-immigrants on a valid visa and remained in the US on the terms of that visa until after they turned 26. (The date of entry on Form I-94 will be relevant.)
- Student is not yet 18. (For federal aid purposes, if a student is not yet 18 years old as of the date the FAFSA form is submitted, he is eligible for federal student aid this award year even if he turned 18 shortly afterward and has not yet registered. Such a student would need to register to be eligible for federal student aid in subsequent years.)
Individuals who are born female and have a gender change are not required to register. U.S. citizens or immigrants who are born male and have a gender change are still required to register.
NOTE: Transgender students are welcome to contact Selective Service regarding their registration requirements if they are unclear about how they should answer Question 21 or Question 22 on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), or need a status information letter from Selective Service that clarifies whether or not they are exempt from the registration requirement. This can be done by calling our Registration Information Office on 1-888-655-1825. Individuals who have changed their gender to male will be asked to complete a request form for a status information letter and provide a copy of their birth certificate. One exemption letter may be used in multiple school financial aid processes.
What If You Didn’t Register and It’s Now Too Late?
Male students who did not register with the Selective Service and are now age 26 or older are ineligible for Federal student aid and other Federal and state benefits. There are only a few options for regaining eligibility, and they depend on showing that either the student was not required to register, or that the failure to register was not knowing and willful.
If the student was not required to register, he will need to obtain a status information letter from Selective Service. This letter will indicate whether the student was or was not required to register. To obtain such a letter, call 1-847-688-6888 or 1-888-655-1825 (stay on the line until the operator answers) or write to Selective Service System, PO Box 94638, Palatine, IL 60094-4638 and ask for a status information letter.
The student will need to describe, in detail, the circumstances that prevented him from registering (e.g., hospitalization, institutionalization, incarceration, military service) and provide documentation of those circumstances. The documentation should be specific as to the dates of the circumstances. (For example, if the student served in the military and was released before age 26, he would still have been required to register within 30 days of his release.) If the student was not a US citizen, he will need to provide documentation of when he entered the United States. The student should also provide his name, Social Security Number, date of birth, and mailing address.
A status information letter is not required if the student can document his status as a veteran (copy of DD-214, active duty orders, military ID card) or that he was born before 1960. Also, non-US men under certain circumstances will not be required to obtain a status information letter. A Request for Status Information Letter form and instructions can be found on the Selective Service web site.
If the student did not satisfy any of the criteria for a waiver of the registration requirement, the student will need to show by a preponderance of evidence that his failure to register was not knowing and willful. The term “preponderance of evidence” refers to the standard of proof used in civil litigation, where the evidence for a fact is of greater weight or more convincing than conflicting evidence. In other words, the probability that the assertion is true must be greater than 50%.
The best evidence is original documentation, especially when it is first hand documentation produced at the time of the event. In other words, direct evidence is better than indirect or circumstantial evidence. Examples of direct evidence include a birth certificate, a date of entry stamp in a passport, and a certificate of mailing. It is best if the source of the evidence is an independent disinterested third-party. For example, a signed statement by the student is a fairly weak form of evidence, although it can shed light on the student’s situation and his sincerity. Positive evidence is better than negative evidence, since it is very hard to prove a negative. Original documentation is better than a copy.
Accordingly, it is in the student’s best interest to provide as much evidence as possible and in as much detail as possible.
The final decision regarding eligibility is made by the financial aid administrator, not the Selective Service. The Selective Service only makes a determination as to whether the student was required to register, not whether the failure to register was knowing and willful. The financial aid administrator’s decision is final and cannot be appealed to the US Department of Education. The US Department of Education will only hear appeals from students who have provided their schools with a status information letter demonstrating compliance (i.e., that they registered or that they are exempt from registration) but are still being denied aid based on the registration requirement.
For students who were required to register, the financial aid administrator will base his or her decision on whether the failure to register was:
- Knowing. Was the student aware of the requirement to register or not? If the student knew about the requirement to register, was he misinformed about the applicability of the requirement to him (e.g., veterans who were discharged before their 26th birthday were occasionally told that they did not need to register)? On which date did the student first learn that he was required to register? Where did the student live when he was between the ages of 18 and 26? Does the status information letter indicate that Selective Service sent letters to the student and did not receive a response?
- Willful. Was the failure to register done deliberately and intentionally? In other words, did the student have the mental capacity to choose whether or not to register and decided not to register?
In addition to the status information letter, the financial aid administrator may also require a signed statement from the student explaining why he did not register and independent third party documentation of any unusual circumstances or facts pertaining to the student’s failure to register. It is very important to provide sufficient documentation, since many financial aid administrators will deny the request for an override without documentation. A signed statement on its own is often not sufficient to justify awarding of federal student aid. (Frankly, many financial aid administrators find it hard to believe that a student was not aware of the requirement, given the extensive publicity by Selective Service.)
Ultimately, the decision will depend on whether the financial aid administrator believes the student and the student has credibly argued that his failure to register was either not knowing or not willful.
The most common examples where financial aid administrators have granted an override include the following. Please note that each situation is reviewed individually.
- Student served in the Armed Forces on full-time active duty, was released under a condition other than dishonorable before his 26th birthday, and either assumed or was misinformed about not being required to register.
- Student tried to enlist in the military, but was turned down, and didn’t realize that enlisting and registering for Selective Service are different requirements.
- Student was kidnapped by a parent in a custody battle, and that parent prevented the student from registering.
- Parents were illegal aliens and kept the student unaware of the requirement to register.
- Student claims he was not aware of the requirement and lived abroad for the entire period from age 18 through age 26.
- Student was aware of the requirement, but incorrectly believed that the requirement did not apply to him because he is his parent’s only child or because all of his parent’s other children are already serving in the armed forces.
- Student documents that he did submit a registration. (During the mid to late 1990s, data for some students who tried to register for Selective Service using the FAFSA form was never transmitted to Selective Service. In particular, data for students who had not yet reached their 18th birthday was never transmitted to Selective Service. A documented attempt to register demonstrates that the failure to register was not willful.)
Schools are much less likely to grant an override when the excuse is ignorance of the requirement without extenuating circumstances. Likewise if the student failed to register because of an error made by the student, such as thinking that registering to vote automatically registered one for selective service. But on the whole, schools tend to be lenient when the excuse is reasonable and they believe the student is being honest.
If the student insists that he registered but the Selective Service web site disagrees, the student will need to provide documentation of the attempt to register, such as a photocopy of the registration form. Occasionally the Selective Service database will have the student’s information recorded under a different date of birth or social security number. This can happen when there are digit transpositions in the social security number or the month and day are swapped. The financial aid administrator should ask the student for a copy of their social security card and birth certificate, and then call Selective Service to ask for a name search.