When Your Parents Won't Help You Pay For College
If you’re an undergraduate student, the vast majority of the aid you get is designed to take into account your parents’ financial standing. It’s assumed that your parents will help you pay for college.
The FAFSA takes into account both of your parents’ finances. If they’re divorced, they’ll consider only the custodial parents’ finances—although if you have a stepparent, they’ll include their finances as well. Some schools go so far as to consider the non-custodial parent’s finances as well in their own private financial aid process.
For students whose parents choose not to help, the system is not on their side. While legally students are considered adults at 18, for financial aid purposes they’re assessed as dependents—with access to their parents’ money—until the age of 24. And if they don’t provide information on their parents’ financial status, they aren’t eligible for many colleges’ private need-based aid programs—as well as federal grants and aid except for Stafford loans. Especially if your parents are in a high-income bracket, this could seriously hinder your ability to pay for school.
Schools don’t follow this procedure to make things difficult. It’s federal law that schools can’t give students a “dependency status override” for federal aid simply because parents don’t want to pay for school and students can demonstrate financial self-sufficiency.
There aren’t a lot of options for students in this situation. But there are some. Here are a few things to consider.
If you’re over 24, you’re automatically considered an independent for financial aid purposes. If you’re under 24, you’re considered independent if you’re a ward of the court, have been living in foster care, or you’re an orphan. And if you’re supporting a dependent or you’re married, you’re also classified as independent—although you lose that status if you divorce while you’re under 24.
You may be able to apply as an independent anyway—if you can prove it
If you don’t meet these criteria, some schools will allow you to apply as an independent for financial aid if you can demonstrate unusual circumstances. You’ll have to do more than tell them that your parents won’t pay for college for their own reasons, however—or even demonstrate that you’re living on your own already. You’ll need to demonstrate that you’ve been completely abandoned by your parents, or abused or neglected in some way. You’ll have to back up your claim with medical records, jail or rehab records, death certificates, and letters from other adults backing up your story.
Emancipating yourself for financial aid isn’t practical
If you’re homeless or an emancipated minor, you can get independent status without having to go through the appeal process. However, if you’re thinking of moving out on your own before college purely for financial aid, it’s not that easy. The process of getting emancipation status can take about a year, and you have to live in a state that recognizes emancipation in the first place—about 20 states don’t.
If you can’t meet these requirements, your best bet may be to talk to your parents—alone or together. If you don’t feel you can convince them to at least fill out a FAFSA for you, it might be helpful to talk to a counselor at your school who can mediate and make a case for their help as an objective third party. There are many reasons why parents don’t want to contribute towards their children’s college tuition—ranging from tax evasion and privacy concerns to a messy divorce or flat disagreements with you regarding the school you chose or other issues.
If your parents are refusing to pay for your college tuition, you’re in a tough spot. If you can’t prove very unusual circumstances such as abuse or neglect, and don’t fall under the category of an emancipated minor or orphan, you could have trouble getting financial aid. If you can’t get through to your parents, your choices are limited—and could involve choosing a lower-priced community college or online school, or possibly waiting until you’re 24 to attend.
More About Earn Money for College
- How the Financial Landscape Has Changed for Students and Recent Graduates
- College Fees: What You Pay - and Why
- When Your Parents Won't Help You Pay For College
- The National Service Bill: Funds for Older Adult Education
- Investing In Your Child's College - No Matter the Market
- Getting Your Company to Pay For Your Education - in a Tight Economy
- Work-Study Programs: What You Need to Know
- College Living: Top Ways to Save Money in 2009