Many students rely on financial aid as the primary source of their educational costs. With the cost of tuition seemingly always on the rise, students need loans and grants in order to attend college and secure a successful career after graduation. However, a criminal record could put that aid in jeopardy.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, certain criminal convictions can greatly impact the amount and availability of financial aid to students. One of the most harmful convictions for students relates to drug crimes.

Working around a drug conviction

Under the current rules, eligibility for financial aid is suspended if the offense occurred while a student was receiving financial aid, such as grants, loans or work-study. On the FAFSA form, the document asks if the applicant has been convicted of a drug offense while receiving assistance. If the answer is yes, there is a subsequent worksheet to determine the borrower’s eligibility going forward.

If a student is convicted and loses eligibility, they may be liable for returning any financial aid they received during the period of ineligibility. The repayment of loan funds at this time can be a significant financial hardship for many, making it another penalty on top of whatever they received as a result of the drug conviction.

If you, your son or daughter has been charged with a drug offense while receiving financial aid, you need to make sure you take the time to explore all options in fighting the charges against you. Simply pleading guilty to the charges might make the case go away, but it may only be the beginning of your problems.

For many first-time offenders, there are things that they can do to potentially avoid the stigma and consequences that come with a conviction of a drug crime. Sentencing alternatives may present offenders with an opportunity to lessen the charges they are facing, or perhaps even eliminate them entirely if they comply with various requirements, which may keep their financial aid options open.

College students need to take all drug crimes seriously. Charges like possession, distribution or trafficking can be extremely challenging to overcome if a conviction is on your record. You do not want to see your opportunities limited in the future due to a mistake you made while attending college.