Can has higher education?
March 29, 2008 4:09 AM   Subscribe

How does one apply for financial aid at a public university as an independent party? This is to imply there will not be financial assistance from the parent/guardian; is there a way for their income to be excluded as criteria in evaluating aid eligibility?

The situation is this. A student has been attending a public university for the past two years and has been denied financial aid from the government and university for both years. These applications included the parents financial records/income.

The situation has changed and the parent will no longer be financially able to assist in payment for tuition/housing for certain reasons and the student will be one their own. The income of the guardian is such that financial aid requests have been denied in the past but various obligations/expenses make supporting multiple college tuition bills unfeasible.

Is there a way for the student to prove financial independence from the parents and have their request evaluated solely on their income and financial situation? Would this simply require not being claimed as a dependent?

This is for a California university if this impacts the situation at all. This question at MeFi is meant to serve as the groundwork prior to meeting with the university financial aid office. I assume this it's not possible for one to just say their parents will not be assisting in paying for one's education since most everyone would do that. Any help is appreciated, MeFites.
posted by anonymous to Education (11 answers total)
I think you'll do this on your FAFSA, IIRC.

I'm not sure how the particulars would work out, I haven't filled one out in a while. However, I know that the FAFSA is the place where you usually put your parents' income as a factor into how much money you get. I don't know if you can simply delare yourself an independent, though, according to this and this [PDF].
posted by aheckler at 4:50 AM on March 29, 2008

You may be confusing two different procedures.

The standard financial aid application process accommodates changes in parental assets, income, and expenses -- that's why students have to reapply each year. With sufficient documentation, you should be able to change your eligibility for government aid and may be able to change your eligibility for non-governmental university aid.

However, assuming you're an undergraduate, independence, has little to do with your parents' income or assets or changes thereof. It is for those who can and do support themselves and whose parents do not and cannot support them. If they paid for you last year you're going to have a very hard time qualifying as independent under the government's or university's eyes (who can have different standards).
posted by MattD at 4:57 AM on March 29, 2008

Or, per aheckler's link, you can get married! How could I have forgotten about that one.
posted by MattD at 4:59 AM on March 29, 2008

This is actually pretty easy, I promise.

You go to the financial aid office and tell them that you are an independent student. They might want some background information on the situation - i.e. why your parents aren't supporting you any more. I knew a girl who was not supported because she was a lesbian, for example. But there are also just disconnects from parents.

AT UCSB, we grant this status to under 100 kids a year - but pretty much all that ask for it get it.

Then at the end of the summer, the kids get an e-mail/letter asking them if their situation is still the same or has changed and if it has changed, to please notify financial aid.
posted by k8t at 5:27 AM on March 29, 2008

anonymous said: "Is there a way for the student to prove financial independence from the parents and have their request evaluated solely on their income and financial situation? Would this simply require not being claimed as a dependent?

I assume this it's not possible for one to just say their parents will not be assisting in paying for one's education since most everyone would do that.

Anecdata: At the University of Texas in the 1990's, one could not just declare themselves financially independent, and therefore eligible for aid. An applicant had to provide the university a copy of the parents' prior year tax return demonstrating that the parents did not claim the student as a dependent.

Just as a sample of CA uni policy:
- the UCLA Financial Aid Office website indicates that a student can appeal the FAFSA criteria... but this "Independent Petition" form (PDF) would indicate that your particular situation, Anon, is ineligible.
- Here's the Cal State system FAQ on the subject.

It seems pretty clear that FAFSA wouldn't consider you independent, but you're within a reasonable gray area that the university might. If your parents aren't claiming you as a dependent, you've got the beginnings of a case that you can make for being an extenuating circumstance. If you can make that case to the school's satisfaction, it seems likely that they'll be able to find aid for you.

But it seems that, overall, your biggest hurdle is going to be that universities and the government expect that a family is going to go above and beyond to meet their Expected Family Contribution. There's a reason that your situation isn't considered eligible by FAFSA; the financial aid entities have a vested interest in discouraging families from saying, "We could contribute, but we're electing not to -- for a reason that isn't extreme illness, death, job loss" [or whatever other mitigating circumstance would be seen as a clear exception to the rule], "and the school/government can pick up the rest." I'm not intending to imply that you are looking for a free ride, Anon -- just that it makes sense as to why the system doesn't want to make it easy for those who might be.
posted by pineapple at 6:44 AM on March 29, 2008

I worked in a college financial aid office from 2002-2003. The student's age is not listed, but I'm assuming it must be under 25 if this question is coming up. Up until that age, unless you meet other limited, specific criteria, you will be considered dependent and your parents' income will be used to calculate your Expected Family Contribution. Once the local financial aid office receives your FAFSA from the department of education, you can talk with them about your situation and see if you qualify for any sort of waiver.

If the economic situation at present is different from the tax year on which the FAFSA calculation is based, financial aid officers may work with you to reexamine the current situation. Be prepared for a lot of forms, and the parents' full cooperation will be needed. Be prepared for a denial, which is most common. If they do have the money and are simply spending it on something else, their income will still be considered in determining who is responsible to pay for your education.
posted by bloggerwench at 7:53 AM on March 29, 2008

When I was an independent college undergrad in the 90's, I was told by my college that the only way I could be considered for financial aid that didn't include my parent's information, was if I had a social worker, religious leader or other kind of official person vouch for me and make statements indicating that my family had some kind of issue (abuse, disownment, etc). Since this wasn't the case, I had to do what millions of other college students do to pay for school: take out student loans and get a job.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:50 AM on March 29, 2008

My university was very strict on who could claim independence. I tried, but I was on parental insurance so no dice. However, I never got denied for aid--I just never got any free money. As long as they apply, every student still got a chunk of money in the form of Stafford loans, regardless of need. I had to work to pay for rent, food and bills, but tuition was covered. This is pretty much what everyone I knew did.
posted by sian at 9:47 AM on March 29, 2008

I did something similar when I was in college. I just listed one parent as a gaurdian (parents were divorced) instead of both parents' income. It wokred.
posted by Brittanie at 11:02 AM on March 29, 2008

posted by Brittanie at 11:02 AM on March 29, 2008

Response by poster: Go and talk to your university's financial aid office. You may be able to work out something with them. It is highly unlikely you will be able to get government aid--the FAFSA form is pretty restrictive on who is or is not allowed to exclude their parents' earnings from the application, and basically you only get out if you're married, an active member of the military, your parents are dead, or you've been in foster care since you were a teenager.
posted by Anonymous at 1:41 PM on March 29, 2008

« Older Launching a website that contains public...   |   This land is your land... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.