Emancipation and Paying for College
In most cases, parents agree to pay, at least partially, for dependent children’s college tuition. The federal government, private lenders, and colleges all assess parents’ financial income and assets when determining how much financial aid a student is eligible for. However, some parents refuse to pay for their children’s education. This puts children in a difficult position, because schools and the federal government won’t agree not to consider parents’ income and assets just because the parents don’t want to pay.
Students in this position often consider trying to claim “independent student” or “emancipated” status when applying for financial aid. However, it’s not that simple. The term “emancipation” is usually used in the context of child support. It can happen when a child reaches the age of majority—usually 18 or 21—or when the child is granted adult status before reaching that age by the court. When this happens, the child is an “emancipated minor.”
Emancipation often comes into play during divorce cases. When two parents divorce, the non-custodial parent is often required to pay child support until the child’s emancipation by reaching the age of majority. This age varies by state, and could be anywhere from 18 to 21.
Paying for college is never easy—particularly for students whose parents don’t want to help. If this is the case for you, it will probably be easier for you to talk to your parents and come to an agreement than to claim independent student status.
This means that, if a child was emancipated before the age of majority by a court, the federal government may consider their status separate from their parents’ when determining financial aid eligibility. However, the federal government will usually consider the assets and income of the parents of a truly emancipated student—one over the age of majority. In many cases, emancipated students over the age of majority are still considered dependents for financial aid purposes.
“Independent student” is the phrase used to describe students who are truly considered separate from their parents by the federal government and the school you attend. Emancipated minors now fall under this category.
For federal loans, you qualify as an independent student if you meet one or more of the following qualifications:
- You are 24 years of age or older by December 31 of the award year.
- You were married on the day you applied for financial aid (even if you’re separated now).
- You are enrolling in a Masters or Doctoral degree program.
- You have children who receive over half their financial support from you.
- You have dependents other than a child or spouse who live with you and receive over half their financial support from you.
- Both your parents are deceased.
- You are a ward of the court.
- You are currently on Active Duty in the US Armed Forces or are a veteran.
If you can prove to your college that one or more of the above is true, you will be considered an independent student—and your parents’ assets and income will not be considered on financial aid forms. This can make you eligible for significantly more grants and low-interest federal aid—and dramatically reduce the amount you’ll pay in student loans and up-front tuition costs. However, it’s not easy to gain independent student status if at least one of the above isn’t true for you. While some students do succeed in petitioning colleges for independent status without meeting the above qualifications, it’s usually in very extreme circumstances—such as cases of child abuse.
Paying for college is never easy—particularly for students whose parents don’t want to help. If this is the case for you, it will probably be easier for you to talk to your parents and come to an agreement than to claim independent student status. It’s possible your parents may be willing to contribute some costs of tuition—even if it’s less than the amount you’d need. As difficult as these situations can be, it’s more likely parents will compromise than that the federal government will.
FAFSA: Independent Students
Distance-Education.org: What to Do if Your Parents Won’t Help Pay for College
FinAid: Professional Judgment: Ward of the Court
The University of Mississippi: Emancipated Minor
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