How am I going to pay for my credential program?
March 19, 2011 10:37 AM   Subscribe

How do I claim myself as an independent on the FAFSA when I am completely independent, going for a teaching credential, 22 years old, or how else can I fund my schooling?

I'm applying for a teaching credential program. I'm 22 years old, live on my own with my boyfriend and support myself with my job at Safeway in which I make barely above minimum wage.

My parents are fundamentalist Christians, and I'm gay, so it didn't quite pan out when I decided that I didn't want to hide my relationship with my boyfriend anymore. I left for my own psychological health and thus cut off any contact and financial help I've received from them.

I have a B.S. in Anthropology, so I thought that going for any other degree, even if it is just a credential would constitute an advanced degree of some sort, but apparently, as the school recently notified me, a teaching credential is regarded as a 5th year undergraduate degree for 'financial aid' purposes, and would like me to amend it with my parents information.

Not only would I not be able to contact them, but even if I could, I doubt they'd be able to help me. They are also wealthy, and last time I applied for FAFSA I got nothing, because my dad is a lawyer who makes 200K+ a year.

What kind of options could I use to fund my schooling? Preferably something without the need for a cosigner, since I don't really have one.
posted by Peregrin5 to Education (15 answers total)
From what I remember working for FAFSA many years ago you need to petition your school to make you "independent" if you don't meet the criteria.
posted by thylacine at 10:38 AM on March 19, 2011

Have you contacted your school's financial-aid office? They might be able to help.
posted by box at 10:43 AM on March 19, 2011

The only way for an undergraduate student to appeal for independent status would be to demonstrate a complete break from your parents. This would include documentation from a professional, such as a lawyer, counselor, clergy member, or some other person who can confirm that you have absolutely no relationship with your parents. Contact your financial aid office to see what their appeals process is.

The FAFSA needs your parents' income information in order to calculate your EFC score. EFC stands for Estimated Family Contribution. However, the EFC is not the amount of money your family will need to pay in order for you to go to school (an EFC of 25,000 does not mean your parents will need to pay that much out of pocket). Think of it like a score that rates your family's current economic situation. Your school's financial aid office needs that EFC score to calculate your need-based financial aid eligibility.

Your parents won't be required to pay, but their information is required for these very important calculations.

Also, keep in mind that many private loans also need a FAFSA application for similar reasons.
posted by Think_Long at 10:59 AM on March 19, 2011

I used to process FAFSA claims and also had a friend with the estranged parents problem. Unless the rules have changed since 2005 you will need to petition your parents for copies of their tax returns showing they don't claim you as a dependent.

This is a horrible catch 22: one of many in American higher education. If they're still claiming you as a dependent, or they're hostile to you, you're screwed. The only way out of it is to hire legal counsel, which most FAFSA applicants can't afford to do almost by definition.

Box's advice is sound. You should certainly contact the FinAid office of the school. A professional adviser might be aware of recent rule changes or other tricks that I'm not.
posted by clarknova at 11:00 AM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Call the financial aid office.

At some schools all graduates are considered independent.
At some schools, you can petition the financial aid office to be considered independent (I have a pal that is gay with fundy parents and never had a problem getting it.)

But it isn't that tough to do, generally.
posted by k8t at 11:01 AM on March 19, 2011

Best answer: First and foremost, my heart goes out to you. As a gay guy who used to be a financial aid counselor, I wish that there was help in this situation. But there isn't always.

Financial aid counselors can use something called Professional Judgement to determine your financial aid eligibility for a program. This is a powerful tool that any of them may use. It just depends on how much they want Uncle Sam breathing down their neck because they severely bent the rules for a gay kid whose parents cut him off.

Is this a grad program? If so, forget everything I said. You're already independent.

If not, Discover and Sallie Mae have great programs for borrowing. I was able to borrow without a cosigner. I wish you luck. But man. The law eats in this case.
posted by satyricaldude at 11:41 AM on March 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

How do you feel about a marriage of convenience? According to FAFSA's own rules, if you are married - at any age - congratulations, you're independent. I would lay a bet that there's some person of the female gender in your program who might be in a similar parental-funding bind.

Quicker than negotiating with financial aid about your parents is just to show 'em your marriage certificate. In Oregon, it'll set you back about $60.

fafsa worksheet (it's number 2 on the list)

I would check with your boyfriend first to see how HE would feel about it, of course.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:55 PM on March 19, 2011

And on further examination, #3 on the SAME DAMN WORKSHEET I POSTED is exactly what satyricaldude said: if you're applying for a graduate program, you're already independent with a lot less work than a marriage license.

If you're set on the school you're currently applying to, marriage of convenience is probably the fastest cheapest way to get independent status.

If you've got more than one university available in your area, though, maybe look at one that actually sees a Masters in Teaching as, you know, an actual Masters. (But maybe their program is smarter than their FinAid department?)
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 1:03 PM on March 19, 2011

Why not consider going for an M.Ed. instead of just the credential? It should only take one extra year, and makes you one step closer to "highly qualified" status. "Highly qualified" status is one of the things you need (in addition to teaching in a high needs school) that will allow you to apply for loan forgiveness. If doing into a real graduate program is the way you can qualify as independent, and it would be better for your career, then I would consider doing that.

And don't forget to apply for TEACH grants!
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 1:29 PM on March 19, 2011

I'd like to say that you're a really brave person for leaving. I left home when I turned eighteen because of differences with my parents, so I have some idea of what that feels like.

At the time, I was told my options were either legal emancipation or petitioning my school for independent student status. I personally did not pursue the emancipation route because, from how I understood it, it was the equivalent of "divorcing" your parents. It will also probably take longer than this coming school year to process the paperwork, but I'm just going by what I was told.

I ended up going with petitioning my school for legal emancipation, since my dad makes around what your father does. Be warned; it's a pretty tough process, because from what I was told, the school has to pay the money back if your claim is false. Like Think_Long said, get documentation from professionals who know of your situation (clergy? guidance counselor?). Talk to your financial aid office to see what your options are.

Don't forget to look and apply for scholarships--you'd be amazed to see what's out there!

I hope this turns out well for you :)
posted by Stephanie Duy at 3:00 PM on March 19, 2011

Forgot one last thing: if none of the options I listed pan out, you could also consider taking a break from school until you're 26 (which is when the FAFSA considers you an adult). It's not the ideal solution (not by a long shot), but it might work out for you if you're willing to wait/take classes part-time.
posted by Stephanie Duy at 3:03 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Stephanie has great advice, but I just wanted to clarify that you could also consider taking a break from school until you're 26... the age in question at which FAFSA stops considering you a dependent, no matter how actually dependent you are on your parents, is 24, not 26.
posted by saveyoursanity at 4:33 PM on March 19, 2011

You could also investigate options for an alternative teaching certificate, rather than taking college courses for the credentials. Many programs require a small upfront fee, and the rest of the fees are deducted from your first year salary as a teacher. Just google alternative teaching certificate and the name of your state and see what you can find out. This is a legit way to gain teaching credentials if you already have a bachelor's degree.
posted by tamitang at 5:11 PM on March 19, 2011

Yikes, I've been out of school for too long! saveyoursanity has got it right; it's 24, not 26 when the FAFSA stops considering you a dependent.
posted by Stephanie Duy at 9:50 AM on March 20, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your help. I applied for a Dependency Override, and despite the grim outlook everyone I asked gave me about it, I was accepted for it! I did have to provide around 2 letters of recommendation: one from my friend who knew my situation, and another from my landlord (who happened to have a Ph.D in Theology which might have qualified him as my professional), and write a personal statement. Other documents of proof I provided were my lease agreement, a vehement letter from my mother and a letter from my father following our break to prove my situation. I am now happily attending my credential program and am on my way to becoming a California certified teacher. Thank you all again!
posted by Peregrin5 at 4:20 PM on August 3, 2011

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