How to get educational financial help as a truly independent young adult?
November 1, 2007 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Help me help my friend convince college financial aid departments that her parents are not and never will be willing to provide any help for her, and get money to pay for living expenses.

Posted, obviously, on behalf of a friend.

My friend "Sarah" is 23, and has a modest full-time desk job - not an income she wants to keep for much longer, but enough to pay rent, food, etc, comfortably... if only just barely. She is not making enough to make any significant savings, but neither does she have any debt. She is currently taking occasional classes at a community college, and has a 4.0 average there. She wants/needs to transfer to a four-year public school full-time soon-ish and get her degree.

The problem is that her parents are actively opposed to the idea of her getting an education. They aren't just refusing to provide help - they've refused to cosign private student loans. They've even refused to give her the information she needs to apply for financial aid. Please don't provide any responses along the lines of 'go negotiate with them' - she's tried, and they're totally unsympathetic. It's an extreme case of the classic "We didn't need college, therefore you don't" story, and they can be counted on to not lift a finger to help her, no matter how trivial that help might seem.

She also has no other relatives who could be cosigners - and yes, she's made sure of that.

What she needs is money both for tuition and living expenses, since she won't be working full-time if she's taking classes full-time. Currently her boyfriend is helping pay for her community college classes, but she doesn't want to be dependent on him - and obviously a four-year school full-time is a whole different financial matter than community college courses one at a time. So this question has two components:

First, as a 23-year-old, what can she/must she do to convince a large public university that she really truly is on her own, and will never see a dime from her parents? They seem to expect that up until 25, they're providing assistance, but she's not a minor trying to get emancipated.

Second, what kind of loan options does Sarah have to pay for living expenses, and for tuition beyond what scholarships will provide, given that she doesn't have a significant credit history (just one secured credit card) and won't be able to make enough money working part-time to pay for everything, and has no cosigner available?
posted by Tomorrowful to Education (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty sure that the age cutoff for financial aid is 24, not 25. Given that, it might be easiest for her to just wait until she's over the cutoff.
posted by phoenixy at 2:11 PM on November 1, 2007

First, as a 23-year-old, what can she/must she do to convince a large public university that she really truly is on her own, and will never see a dime from her parents? They seem to expect that up until 25, they're providing assistance, but she's not a minor trying to get emancipated.

I believe this falls into the category of 'Contact the school's Financial Aid office'. When it comes to waivers and exemptions, each school will inevitably have a different process, and they should have staff people (especially if you look into it soon, before the FAFSA deadline looms) who can answer your questions.

I think the other option is to wait until she is 25. Since her parents are "opposed to her education", does this mean she is a first generation college student? There might be programs she can work from that angle that will help with both finances and the pesky "my parents don't believe in education" problem.
posted by lastyearsfad at 2:11 PM on November 1, 2007

She should be considered independent so long as her parents aren't claiming her as a dependent on their taxes and she can prove that she provides for all her expenses. And getting married really helps too.

If her parents are claiming her, then they're really screwing her in a number of ways.

She could also show the aid office her bank records from the last X years to show that she's received no money from her parents or anyone else.

I did all these things and was independent at the age of 20, so it has to be possible. (Or course, different school and states might have different rules).
posted by visual mechanic at 2:15 PM on November 1, 2007

Seconding the cutoff as 24, not 25. As long as she doesn't have bad credit, she should be okay getting a private student loan on her own to cover anything the grants/scholarships/federal loans don't cover.
posted by logic vs love at 2:16 PM on November 1, 2007

She needs to speak with the student loan officers at the university. They will tell her if she needs to legally be emancipated or if there are alternate channels. One quick but complicated way to get around the parental information bit is to get married (obviously not the solution for everyone), the government considers you to be an autonomous adult at that point (but you then have to include your spouse's information) (lame but true). Loan officers at her desired school will/should be able to answer all her questions in detail, she should make an appointment and bring all of her tax information with her. Good luck to her.
posted by estronaut at 2:16 PM on November 1, 2007

She's just turned 23 this past week, and as you might imagine, is getting sick of watching all of her friends get on with their post-college lives while she wrestles with things like 'my parents won't even let me apply for financial aid.'

So the notion of "just wait" is understood, but those who want to chime in with it don't need to. And it still won't help with living expenses, even if she does get a good-sized tuition assist as she expects to.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:18 PM on November 1, 2007

If she could get a letter from her parents simply stating their position, it might (depending on the FA office) be enough to declare herself a financial independent. Even if she can't get the letter, or the letter is not enough, she needs to go explain her situation to someone at the FA office. Seeking financial independence isn't easy, but it's easier than coming up with several thousand dollars every term. Find someone in the FA office who is willing to help, get his/her name, make the person cookies, ask questions--repeat as necessary.
posted by eralclare at 2:22 PM on November 1, 2007

without reading other responses, because this is painfully familiar, I spent 2 years of my life trying to do this myself, and it ain't gonna happen. Give up, and tell your friend to give up. Seriously.
posted by peep at 2:25 PM on November 1, 2007

I was in almost her same situation, minus the rotten parents. I was 23, shitty job, no savings, one credit card, wanted to go to large state school, did not expect my parents to pay a dime (my choice, not theirs). I had no trouble getting loans or financial aid, given my low income. I believe I did have to prove I'd been living on my own for X years (at the time, it was 2 years). I don't remember how I confirmed this - perhaps they talked to my landlord.
posted by desjardins at 2:25 PM on November 1, 2007

to clarify, I meant give up on trying to get around the FA rules. all other avenues to paying for college are great, of course.
posted by peep at 2:26 PM on November 1, 2007

Jeez, I was going to say peep, that first comment was pretty doom-and-gloom.

Most schools do have helpful financial aid officers, all of whom have dealt with this sort of thing before. They'll know what to do.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:31 PM on November 1, 2007

Some of the answers to this thread seem to be referring to outdated (pre-1992) requirements for getting a dependency override. Back then, you only needed to demonstrate that you were financially self-sufficient (had a paycheck for the past two years, weren't claimed as a dependent). Now the rules are much stricter and require evidence that the parents have cut off all contact, are in jail or a mental institution, abuse the child, or something similar. The FAOs can help the applicant find other avenues for funds, but she probably doesn't qualify for a DO.
posted by phoenixy at 2:39 PM on November 1, 2007

My experience was in 1998, FWIW.
posted by desjardins at 2:43 PM on November 1, 2007

they've refused to cosign private student loans

Go talk to bankers, not the university, about funding student loans without cosign requirements. They do exist.

Also, there are various scholarship/financial assistance programs that fund education if you enter specific, narrowly defined educational fields. The school's financial aid department should be able to provide help in that area, too.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:44 PM on November 1, 2007

I don't think her parents can even claim her on their taxes, whether she is living at home or on her own. She is over 18 and not a full time student. IANAL or a tax advisor, but I think you can only claim adult dependents (over age 18, up to 25) if they are also full time students. At 25, all bets are off. They can't claim her unless she's disabled, as far as I understand.

It seems to me that she doesn't need their permission-- she should follow the advice about contacting the financial aid offices of the schools she'd like to attend, but then she should just fill out the required government FAFSA form on her own.

(If I can be claiming my not-in-school 18 yr old, I would really like to know!)
posted by nax at 2:53 PM on November 1, 2007

I'm not sure Peep is that far off.

Can a dependent student even fully fill out the FAFSA without the information from the parents?
posted by Sheppagus at 3:01 PM on November 1, 2007

Sheppagus, no. My issue was with the fact that I had no documentation of my parents' income, because my dad had serious "issues" with filing his damn taxes (issues since resolved).

I am outraged to this day that I lived on my own for years, worked (several) jobs, paid for every expense myself, even loaned [read: gave] my parents money! and I was punished for something I had NO control over. I am also angry that I pissed away all that time fighting with the financial aid system.

Also note, when you go into your financial aid office and claim to have a "special reason" why you need to be considered independent, they are rolling their eyes at you on the inside. Rest assured, they've heard it all before, and they KNOW you aren't going to be granted an exception. They are usually very helpful, and they'll try, but they'll also try to warn you that it never works. Listen to them.
posted by peep at 3:11 PM on November 1, 2007

nax writes "It seems to me that she doesn't need their permission-- she should follow the advice about contacting the financial aid offices of the schools she'd like to attend, but then she should just fill out the required government FAFSA form on her own."

How do you propose she does that? 70% of the FAFSA is information she can only get from her parents unless: 1. she's 24 by Jan 1 2008 2. she's in a graduate program 3. she's married 4. she has a dependent 5. she's an orphan or 6. she's in or a veteran of the U.S. armed forces.

So to file the FAFSA without her parents, she can wait, get married, have a kid, kill her parents, or join the Navy. peep is right, here, I'm afraid. Your friend isn't going to get through the regular financial aid system, especially at a big state school.

Personally, I recommend a marriage of convenience.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:18 PM on November 1, 2007

I'm pretty sure that the age cutoff for financial aid is 24, not 25.

Each college is different. Mine was something like late twenties, perhaps even early thirties.
posted by caddis at 3:25 PM on November 1, 2007

Depending on how much her parents earn, it might not even be worth it to get them to fill out the FFA paperwork. If her parents make even a low-average income, the FFA people expect they will pay a certain amount of her tuition and she wouldn't have even qualified for Pell grants.

It is a huge, complicated ordeal to get yourself declared as an "emancipated student." I know only one person (with a troubled family background) who successfully did this and he had his therapist and social worker come talk to the school.

She should take out a bank loan and work a part time job to pay her way through school. Also, I am seconding the suggestion of looking at every possible grant or scholarship opportunity available to first generation, non-traditional or female students.
posted by pluckysparrow at 3:36 PM on November 1, 2007

Is there a provision in the rules for "breakdown of family relationship" or "homelessness" or similar situations? She might be able to bring herself under those rules.

A typical scenario (ie, what we did when I worked for a welfare agency some years ago) was the social worker would interview the student, take statements, take supporting statements from people in a position to know (siblings in particular, also "responsible citizens" eg doctor, priest, police, respectable neighbors are fine too; basically anyone who you could, in theory, ask to testify in a court of law, and who would do so, and who would be credible as witnesses). The social worker would then ring the parents and talk to them. Normally parents would confirm the story, one way or another. Occasionally they would refuse to speak to the SW, in which case, the SW would note that down and take it as a strong indication of familial breakdown. On rare occasions the parents would actively lie: "oh yes, we support her, we give her $500 a week and she can come home any time she likes" in which case the SW would ask if any evidence of such support (deposit slips or cheque butts for money sent to the child, witness statements from people such as the above) was available.

If the parents' story was rock-solid and the kid's wasn't, the SW would talk to the kid about it, offer to mediate, etc. If there were actual evidence the kid was lying, s/he of course would not get the payment - but a SW's job in such cases is not limited to providing a yes/no answer to the paymasters.

But in the end the SW would have to make a judgement call. On the one hand, money. On the other, deny a kid support and send them back into a possibly abusive family relationship. On the whole, they tended to go with the safer option.

The parents were notified of what had occurred and had a right of appeal; further, the Department had a postal service, whereby without revealing the kid's address, they would pass on letters of a friendly nature to them. Obviously the kid could request this not be done ... but anyway, that was how things worked then under that system.

Anyway, that's an example of how such assessments are done. Financial pressures may be greater, the SW's hands may be more tied (ie, the people at the top who don't give a crap about anything but money may refuse to authorise payment to a student whose parents cannot be contacted at all, or who do not confirm the student's story--parents never lie!). But the point of it is, be prepared to back everything up wherever possible with witness statements, or at least "references" who will be able to confirm the story.

There is a "nuclear option" of sorts of course - there may be a cause of action in law to sue the parents for support (or information necessary to get support, such as tax records) that the legislation requires them to provide. Look into whether that's even a possibility.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:37 PM on November 1, 2007

Option of last resort: check out the FA rules for married undergrads, and... get married. To an equally poor student, preferably.

People have done this as friends for various reasons since the dawn of government bureaucracy. It really isn't all that far out, despite the 3,000 posts that will follow warning of the perils of fake marriages.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:43 PM on November 1, 2007

The problem is that her parents are actively opposed to the idea of her getting an education. They aren't just refusing to provide help - they've refused to cosign private student loans. They've even refused to give her the information she needs to apply for financial aid.

Looking back, my parents did something similar, but without the hostility apparent here; they wanted me to go to college, but said they didn't have the money, wouldn't cosign for a loan, and said they wouldn't give me the info for trying for financial aid because they'd tried with my older sisters and it didn't work because they made too much, so why bother?"

I don't have assistance to give you on how to get yourself into school, but I do have advice to offer on what to do in the meantime: as you're pursuing your avenues on this, don't let your life simmer; proceed with your life as if you've already given up on going to college.

Not in the defeatist sense, of course; don't wither away in a basement or a crap job somewhere. I mean do what you'd do to make your life better, if you knew college was not an option.

That might mean working as a volunteer or unpaid intern (might require taking a token class at a community college) to get a foot in the door in your desired career (this is what I did) or something else entirely, but I'm proof that not going to college doesn't mean wasting your life at a dead-end job with no money to your name.

So live as if you're not going to college but still want to be a success, but simultaneously pursue all suggested avenues for getting to college.
posted by davejay at 3:46 PM on November 1, 2007

t's not just about having a cosigner. It's about being eligible for the grants, subsidized loans, etc that her parents income screws her out of -- even if they're not claiming her on their taxes.

However, I think proving emancipation, even if you need to do it through broader legal channels, is a good thing.
- It sends a signal to her parents that their stance has driven a wedge between them. (and that they are dicks)
- It's much easier if you're over 18 - basically, proving that you're supporting yourself
- She will be eligible for loans that she herself can take on

I got married. My folks were already broke, but my spouse became magically eligible for a whole bunch of aid for tuition, housing and living expenses that weren't available a week before.

Good luck.
posted by Gucky at 3:55 PM on November 1, 2007

As a 22 year-old in 2004 I was in a similar situation. My parents were not uncooperative and I was able to at least supply the necessary information for the FAFSA applications, but their income combined with my income from the previous year meant I got very little aid. There was absolutely nothing I could do, short of joining the military or getting married, to get around it. The financial aid office pretty much made no effort to help because they knew there was nothing they could do.

Personally, I got a full-time job for the university and take classes part time on their dime. But if she will be attending a reasonably-priced university, I think there's a decent chance she can get private student loans to cover it without a cosigner. I suspect they are less demanding regarding your credit history than most consumer loans.
posted by dreadpiratesully at 3:59 PM on November 1, 2007

Your friend must seek a dependency override:

Financial aid administrators have the authority, through Section 480(d)(7) of the Higher Education Act, to change a student's status from dependent to independent in cases involving unusual circumstances. Nationwide, approximately 2% of undergraduate students become independent through such dependency overrides.

Section 480(d) of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), defines an independent student as someone who fits into one or more of six specific categories. Under these categories a student is independent if he or she -

Is 24 years of age or older by December 31 of the award year;
Is an orphan or ward of the court or was a ward of the court until the individual reached the age of 18;
Is a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States;
Is a graduate or professional student;
Is a married individual; or
Has legal dependents other than a spouse.
In addition, an individual who does not qualify as an independent student under one of these six categories may be considered an "independent student" under section 480(d)(7) of the HEA. Under that provision, a student is considered to be an independent student if he or she;

. . . is a student for whom a financial aid administrator makes a documented determination of independence by reason of other unusual circumstances.

In recent years, the AVG has identified four conditions that, individually or in combination with one another, do not qualify as "unusual circumstances" or that do not merit a dependency override. Those circumstances are:

Parents refusing to contribute to the student's education;
Parents unwilling to provide information on the application or for verification;
Parents not claiming the students as a dependent for income tax purposes;
Student demonstrating total self-sufficiency.

It appears she is unlikely to qualify this academic year.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:17 PM on November 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

The FAFSA requirements for dependency status are available here[pdf!]. Basically you have to be one of the following: over 24; married; pursuing a masters/doctorate program; in the armed forces; providing support for children or other dependents; or a ward of the state.

If you don't meet one of those, you have to have your parent's information in order to complete it. I know it's hard, but if she can handle waiting one more year, continuing to take gen ed classes at the community college and building more positive credit, she'll be in a much better position to attend school full time for fall '09.
posted by logic vs love at 4:23 PM on November 1, 2007

I'm assuming she is self sufficient. If she has been for a couple years, she should get by on that alone. i think.
posted by dr. moot at 4:48 PM on November 1, 2007

by which I mean, get independent status.
posted by dr. moot at 4:48 PM on November 1, 2007

i have known several people in similar situations, although for different reasons (oh, to be young and queer.) anyone who claims it is easy or even possible to get a private student loan at that age without a cosigner has not tried to do it even remotely recently. definitely talk to the financial aid office. as a student at a big public university, my advice when dealing with financial aid is if you hear no to keep asking until you're talking to the damn dean. the first person you talk to will not have the answer, and it's unlikely their supervisor will either.

dreadpiratesully's idea (try to get a job at the university) is a good one, though depending on the school it will be moderately to extremely tricky.

incredibly unsolicited: i'm living with someone who's twenty three and applying to four year universities after community college. trust me, sarah's "getting sick of watching all of her friends get on with their post-college lives" will NOT get better by transferring. in fact, it will likely be worse, as anyone who's suffered through a large survey class full of 18 year olds can probably attest. davejay's advice is excellent.
posted by kelseyq at 5:20 PM on November 1, 2007

Does it have to be a public university? Because private colleges, though more expensive at first look, often have a lot more money to devote to financial aid. I couldn't have afforded my state university (no aid), but the private college I went to was need-blind, and positively threw money at me. Some of this was loans, of course, but most of it wasn't. A smaller school is also more likely to have financial aid officers who aren't overseeing as many students as at a large state school. Might be worth some thought, and investigating.
posted by rtha at 5:59 PM on November 1, 2007

Here is a totally different tactic: Maybe she needs to research a new job, one that offers tuition reimbursement as part of the benefits package. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement and the range is vast from a measly $1,000 a year to full payment. Or, she could get a job at a university. Even working in the mail room full time will allow her to take classes for free once she qualifies. It is usually restricted to 6 or so units a semester, but that includes summer so she could be knocking out 18 units for free if she works for the college or university she attends.
posted by 45moore45 at 6:00 PM on November 1, 2007

One of the great things about getting a staff tuition waiver when working at a college is that not only can you take face-to-face classes when they fit into your schedule, but a lot of schools are now offering some basic classes via distance learning online. When I worked for a college, I took 2 classes every semester, usually one face-to-face class and one distance learning...and it was pretty much free.
posted by pluckysparrow at 6:14 PM on November 1, 2007

You say she just turned 23? Well, this year is almost over, and as per Ironmouth's post, she'll be "24 years of age or older by December 31 of the award year" (that is, 2008) as of January 1.

IANAL, but it's worth talking to an administrator and seeing if that's a common reading of the rules.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:18 PM on November 1, 2007

I used to work in a college's financial aid office. You'd be surprised at how many other students are in the same situation. Their parents may make huge amounts of money and fuck up their EFC (estimated financial contribution) to 999,999 and refuse to pay for their education, or own rental property but it doesn't bring in money ... or they're just trying to game the system.

Either way, most colleges have procedures in place for these situations. There is the dependency override, where you may have to submit all sorts of written statements and pay stubs.

From my experience, those who were usually classified "dependent" could be classified "dependent" by proving that yes, they have been living independently. Pay stubs, etc., to prove that they have not been living on someone else's coin and can support themselves during college.

If your friend hasn't already filled out a FAFSA, have her do that. Not only does it establish an EFC, but if it's low enough, it may help with the community college bills (and maybe even more!). No point putting it off, the free money (FSEOG and other grants) only stretches out until the 4th year of college education before it's limited to Stafford loans.
posted by Xere at 11:07 PM on November 1, 2007

How do you propose she does that? 70% of the FAFSA is information she can only get from her parents unless: 1. she's 24 by Jan 1 2008 2. she's in a graduate program 3. she's married 4. she has a dependent 5. she's an orphan or 6. she's in or a veteran of the U.S. armed forces.

As people have said, Sarah's is not an uncommon situtation. So how do people who do not have access to or need of parental information fill out FAFSA? You have to fill it out; if you qualify (over 25, married, parents dead, emancipated minor, etc.) for not having to have your parents help out, don't you still have to fill out FAFSA? (I know I could just check out the FAFSA site, but perhaps y'all know.)

So let's add a task for "Sarah"-- you need to call FAFSA too.
posted by nax at 1:06 PM on November 2, 2007

Depending on the institution, she will most likely need to fill out a CSS/PROFILE as well.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 6:51 PM on November 2, 2007

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