Most people who are planning to enroll in college need some form of financial aid in order to handle the rising costs of tuition, textbooks, supplies, and other fees. Fortunately for these perspective students, there are a number of financial aid options available through colleges, local or state government, and federal programs. These include scholarships, grants, student loans, and the work-study program. While many students are able to get some form of aid, it is exceedingly frustrating for students once they realize how limited their options are, particularly when applying for federal financial aid.
Students often get their first shock when they begin to read the details outlined in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA. The vast majority of colleges and organizations require that aid seeking students complete one of these forms in order to come up with a financial aid package for those students. Financial aid officers analyze your financial need through examining your income and current tax information. It doesn’t sound so outlandish, right? However, once the applicant gets to the second page of the application, it is startlingly apparent that if he or she does not fit some very specific requirements, the amount of the financial aid package is severely limited.
Once applicants answer some general questions about themselves, they are confronted with a series of seven questions that can “make or break” them in terms of their financial aid award. Students are asked if they are: at least 24 years old, a veteran, enrolling in graduate school, married, have children or other dependents in which they are supporting, and have deceased parents or are/were a ward of the court.
If students answer “no” to all of these questions, they are forced to apply using their parents’ tax information rather than their own. At that point, the financial aid award is largely based on the EFC, Expected Family Contribution. In other words, the amount of aid students get is directly connected to the amount of money the government estimates their parents will provide them for their education. Obviously, this can cause a number of problems. The applicant first has to figure out who is considered a parent for the purpose of this application. Shockingly, even legal guardians cannot be considered a parent. It does not matter if the student’s parents offer no support at all, or even if the student is living in the parents’ home. Wealthy parents are under no obligation to help their child pay for college, yet their high income is exactly what will keep that child from getting much aid. Another potential problem is that some students do not have relationships with their parents or perhaps the parents do not wish to give the child their tax information. You may be thinking there is a way around thisÃ¢Â?Â¦wrong again. The only way to get out of documenting parents’ tax and income information is if a) the parents are dead or b) the student has documented proof that the parents were abusive.
The limits the FAFSA forces on to college students has become more of an issue recently, and for good reason. Just a few short years ago, the aid application process was not quite as strict. It seems that, like everything else, people who were taking advantage of the system forced the government to enact harsher requirements for financial aid-seeking students. Perhaps changes did need to be made to the aid system, but the current state of the process is not working well for many students. Potential college students, who are young, single, and trying to make it on your own, beware: your independent efforts may not mean much, if anything at all.