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    Everything You Need to Know About Selective Service

    By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

    Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: October 19th, 2023
    Everything You Need to Know About Selective Service

    The federal financial aid system mandates that all male students register with the Selective Service before submitting the FAFSA. Many people are unaware of the Selective Service and its requirements before applying for financial aid. Here’s our breakdown of the Selective Service enrollment process. We’ll go over what the Selective Service is, who must register, and what they are signing up for. 

    Related: What is this year’s FAFSA deadline?

    What is the Selective Service System?

    The Selective Service System is a federal database of people who are eligible to be drafted into the military. The law mandates that every male male in the US enrolls in the database within 30 days of turning 18. However, there are no penalties for signing up late as long as you enroll before you turn 26. 

    The database is maintained to collect data on people who might be drafted if it becomes necessary. It collects contact information and demographics. The United States has not had a draft since 1972, but it’s still important to know what you are signing up for. Unfortunately, if you will require any financial aid, you don’t have much of a choice.

    Also see: Scholarships360’s scholarship search engine

    Who has to register for the Selective Service?

    All male Americans are required to register for the Selective Service before they turn 26 years old. If you fail to register, you waive your right to a wide variety of privileges. These include federal financial aid, naturalization, federal jobs and job training, and other state and local government jobs.

    Rules for transgender students

    The Selective Service enrollment requirement only applies to those who were assigned the male sex at birth. So, if you were assigned the female sex at birth and now identify as male, you are not required to register. And if you were assigned the male sex at birth and now identify as female, you are required to register. 

    For more details on how gender impacts Selective Services requirements, check out the Selective Service website.

    What if I already turned 26 and haven’t registered?

    Selective Service Exemptions

    If you’ve already turned 26 and you haven’t registered, there are a few pathways to regain financial aid eligibility. The first option is to prove that you were exempt from the requirement. This could be because you were:

    • Medically unable to serve 
    • Enrolled in the military
    • Entered the US after turning 26 (To prove this, you’ll need to provide documentation of your first entry in the United States) 
    • Hospitalized
    • Incarcerated
    • Institutionalized

    Students who were not required to register can obtain a status information letter directly from Selective Service. This letter will reinstate all the privileges that were revoked by failing to enroll. It can be obtained by calling or writing to the Selective Service System. Their phone number for SIL requests is 847-688-6888, and their address is:

    Selective Service System
    P.O. Box 94638
    Palatine, IL 60094-4638

    You can find more information about SIL appeals on the Selective Service website.

    Willful and knowing

    Another pathway is to prove that your failure to register was not knowing and willful, as defined by 50 U.S.C. 3811(g). If you can prove that you were unaware of the requirement, you may be able to regain eligibility for federal financial aid. This decision will be made by the US Department of Education rather than the Selective Service System.

    To prove that a student was knowing of their decision not to enroll, they must have been aware of the requirement. To prove that your failure to enroll was willful, it must be shown that it was done intentionally.

    If you served in the military but were discharged before you turned 26, you may be eligible to regain your benefits. Some soldiers were not informed that they needed to register when they were discharged. 

    Related: How to complete this year’s FAFSA

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • All males living within the United States must register with the Selective Service when they turn 18 years old in order to avoid certain penalties
    • There are exemptions available for individuals in order to not register with the Selective Service, these can include medical reasons, enlistment in the military and living outside the U.S.
    • It’s important to note that not signing up for the Selective Service can affect your ability to receive federal financial aid
    • If you did not sign up for the Selective Service and you are between the age of 18-26 you still have time to sign up and enroll

    Frequently asked questions about the Selective Service

    When do you have to register for the Selective Service?

    The law dictates that men should register for the Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday. However, there is a grace period built-in that allows them to register any time before they turn 26 without penalty.

    That being said, men who want to take advantage of certain benefits, including federal financial aid, must register with the service before receiving it. So, most college-bound students in any sort of financial need have to register in order to attend college.

    What happens if you don’t register for the Selective Service?

    Although it is unclear how often this penalty is enforced, the technical consequences for failure to register with the Selective Service include a fine up to $250,000 and/or up to 5 years of imprisonment. These would only become possibilities if a man turned 26 without enrolling and had no letter proving his exemption from the service.

    Perhaps more immediate a consequence for college-bound men is ineligibility for federal financial aid, including Pell Grants and Federal Direct Loans. Students do not have until they turn 26 to register if they hope to qualify for these programs.

    What is the Selective Service portion of the FAFSA?

    The Selective Service portion of the FAFSA requires that men over the age of 18 enroll in the Selective Service in order to receive federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants, Federal Direct Loans, and more. In this section, you’ll agree to serve in the military should a draft occur, and provide information with which the government can contact you should the need arise.

    Are you automatically registered in the Selective Service when you turn 18?

    You are not automatically enrolled in the Selective Service on your 18th birthday. You’ll have to enroll yourself. Many college-bound men enroll through the FAFSA, which provides a convenient option to enroll. If you don’t go to college, it’s important to remember to enroll before turning 26 in order to avoid federal penalties down the line. You may lose lifetime eligibility for financial aid if you fail to register before this date.

    How to write a letter explaining why I am not registered in the Selective Service?

    Students who turn 26 without registering in the Selective Service lose eligibility for financial aid, but in certain circumstances, they can regain eligibility. These include students who entered the country after turning 26, those who were medically unable to serve, those who were already enrolled in the military, those who were hospitalized, institutionalized,  incarcerated, or disabled. 

    If you have proof of any of these qualifying exemptions, you can get in touch with the Selective Service to obtain an exemption letter. There are two ways to do this: you can call the office at 847-688-6888, or send them a letter at: Selective Service System

    P.O. Box 94638
    Palatine, IL 60094-4638

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