Many low-income college students may be eligible for SNAP benefits but not realize it. The college student rules can be very confusing.

Eligible college students

If you are a low-income college student enrolled half-time or more, you may qualify for SNAP – on your own or part of your parent’s household – as long as you meet any one of the following conditions:

  • you are younger than 18 or older than 49;
  • you receive either federal or state work-study during the school year (for any amount of work-study hours);
  • you work for pay for 20 hours or more per week
  • you have a child under age 6;
  • you have a child under age 12 and you are a single parent in school full time or you are a parent and do not have enough child care coverage to both attend school full time and work 20 hours;
  • you receive TAFDC cash benefits as a pregnant woman or for dependent children,   
  • you are disabled and receive disability-based benefits such as SSI, MassHealth as disabled or EAEDC,
  • you are “physically or mentally unfit for employment” and have a reduced capacity to support yourself as verified by your health care provider,
  • you are in a vocational, mental health or substance abuse rehabilitation program,
  • you are enrolled full-time in a school or training program not considered an “institution of higher education” such as GED, Adult Basic Ed, HiSET, or you are enrolled in a ESL program,
  • you are going to school under a DTA-approved SNAP education or training activity or another government-sponsored education and training program; or
  • you are attending a community college and pursuing a degree or certificate program that is in a career or technical education field or similar program that the college determines will increase your employability.

106 C.M.R. §§ 362.400-362.420 lists all the conditions that qualify college students.

Example 1: Jane is a single parent and a full-time college student with one child age 10. Jane qualifies for SNAP, even though a student, because she is a single parent with a child under age 12.

Example 2: George is a full-time college student with no dependents. He has a work-study job on campus for 5 hours a week. George meets the SNAP rules for college students because he is doing work-study. He does not need to work 20 hours per week.

Example 3: Suzy is majoring in communications at the local community college. Because she is in a public college and in a program that is expected to lead to employment, according to the college, she meets the student eligibility requirements.

College students enrolled less than half-time do not need to meet the conditions above to get benefits. 106 C.M.R.§ 362.400(A). If you are able-bodied, child-less and age 18 to 49, however, you may be required to comply with certain work or community service requirements to continue SNAP benefits.  See What is the ABAWD 3-month time limit? and Who is exempt from the 3-month ABAWD time-limit? regarding ABAWDs.

Purchase and prepare rules for college students

If you live on campus and get most of your meals through your meal plan, you do not qualify for SNAP.

If you live with your parents and you are under age 22, you must be part of their SNAP household if you meet the student eligibility rules, and even if you purchase and prepare food separately. See What if DTA questions the proofs I sent them or demands more proofs?.

Treatment of college student loans and grants

There are specific rules on what income is countable for eligible college students. It is important to remember the following:

  • Federal loans, grants and work-study are “excluded” or non-countable income for SNAP purposes.106 C.M.R. § 363.230(D). This includes Pell Grants, FSEOG, federal college work study, Perkins Loans and other student financial aid from programs administered under Title IV of the federal Higher Education Act.
  • Private and state grants, private loans and state work-study monies do count—but only the amount that is designated for your living expenses counts in calculating SNAP benefits (e.g., the amount that the loan exceeds your tuition, fees, books, supplies, child care and other earmarked educational expenses). 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(D)(4).
  • If you do have countable income from loans or grants, DTA will average the amount of available income monthly over the course of the academic year or semester, even if you receive it in a lump sum. 106 C.M.R. § 364.340(A)(2).

For more information on the income counting rules and what is countable or non-countable, see What income is not counted? and What is earned income?. Non-countable income does not need to be verified.

To help verify your countable school income, DTA uses an “Educational Income and Expense Form” (EDUC-1). See Appendix C. By signing this form, you are giving permission for your college financial aid office to release information to DTA. Use of the form also makes it easier for the financial aid office to report non-federal financial aid you receive and indicate if any of it is designated for your living expenses. You are not required to use this form but it may help in getting the exact information DTA needs.

Advocacy Reminder:

  • Special rules apply to low-income students attending community colleges. Community college students are SNAP eligible if enrolled in career or technical education degree or certificate programs, or enrolled in other programs that the college determines likely to enhance the student’s employability. This policy change is especially important for public college students who cannot get work study or meet the other student exemptions to qualify. Appendix C includes the DTA form  (CCE-1) used to verify eligibility for students in community colleges and a MLRI FAQ.

DTA Policy Guidance:

Online Guide Sections: SNAP > Eligibility Requirements > Students > Students

Additional Guidance
  • College students are considered continuously enrolled during holiday and summer vacations, unemployed college student not receiving work-study may not be SNAP eligible; earnings of ineligible student not count to SNAP household but do count where student becomes SNAP eligible if work hours increase to 20 hrs/week. Transitions Hotline Q&A (June 2014)
  • VA educational benefits excluded as income if VA grant or scholarship precludes use for current living costs. Transitions Hotline Q#5 (May 2013)
  • Job Aid for DTA workers “Everything you need to know about student eligibility for SNAP,” Transitions Training Corner (Sept 2012)
  • DTA guidance on SNAP eligibility for community college students enrolled in career and technical education or other programs likely to lead to employment. F.O, Memo 2010-28 (June 1, 2010), DTA Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2010), updated CCE-1 form issued January 2012.
  • Guidance on college students living with others - ineligible college student are “non-household members” and their income does not count toward SNAP household. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2009)
  • Work hours of employed students should be averaged over the month to get a weekly average (for students eligible claiming 20 hours/week average work) F.O. Memo 2007-44 (Aug. 30, 2007)
  • Once student turns 22, he/she can be own SNAP household even if living with parents as long as adult child  purchases and prepares separately; participation in school meal plan does not disqualify student if meal plan  not provide “majority of meals.” Only one parent in a 2-parent household can claim responsibility to care for a young child to meet student rules. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2006)

Hide Additional Policy Guidance

Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus
Last Updated January 2016
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