In the financial aid process, many schools treat students with divorced parents differently. As someone who has been married for more than 26 years, I don’t think this is always fair, but it’s the reality.
Today I’m going to illustrate how schools can treat families of divorce differently by using the story of a girl, who I’ll call Sophia.
Sophia is a high school senior with a near perfect high school GPA, who also did very well on the SAT. She splits her time between her mom, who makes a six-figure salary, and her father, who is underemployed and earns far less money.
Applying to FAFSA Schools
One way for Sophia to have gotten the best financial aid packages possible would have been to apply to schools that just use the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Financial Aid.
The FAFSA only asks about the income of the “custodial” parent. For financial aid purposes, the custodial parent is the one whose residence the child lives at for more than 50% of the year.
So if Sophia lived with the dad 183 days and the mom 182 days, the dad would fill out the FAFSA. He would include his income, but not his ex-wife’s. There is no guarantee that FAFSA schools won’t require their own supplemental financial aid documents that would pick up the ex-wife’s income, but often this is not the case.
In addition, the FAFSA doesn’t care if the parent filling out the application owns a house. A big plus for families with home equity.
CSS Financial Aid/ PROFILE
So what did Sophia do? She applied to schools that use another financial aid documents – CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE – that delves far deeper into the family’s finances. Most PROFILE schools, nearly all of them private institutions, also want to know about the finances of the non-custodial parents. These schools also ask about home ownership and equity.
Colleges on Sophia’s List
Here are some of the PROFILE schools that Sophia applied to:
- Reed College
- Sarah Lawrence College
- Fordham University
- Boston College
- Boston University
After sharing both parents’ income on the PROFILE, the aid Sophia received at these schools dropped her price from the $50,000+ range down to $32,000 to $35,000. Boston College was the least generous of the bunch. The financial aid, while appreciated, left a potential college tab that was still far more than what this family can afford.
Beyond applying to FAFSA schools, what Sophia could have done is looked at PROFILE schools that don’t ask about the non-custodial parent’s income. You can find these schools by looking at this list of PROFILE colleges and universities on the College Board’s website. When I looked at the PROFILE list, here are some of the prestigious schools that I saw that don’t use the non-custodial forms:
- Bentley University
- Bucknell University
- Carnegie Mellon
- College of Wooster
- DePauw University
- Gettysburg College
- Lewis and Clark College
- Whitman College
If Sophia had applied to schools that don’t ask about the finances of the noncustodial parent, Sophia might have obtained more financial aid.
If you’d like to read more about divorce and financial aid, I wrote this post nearly a year ago:
College Choices for Teens of Divorce
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch. Follow her on Twitter.
Getting Rejected by Harvard
5 Ways to Increase Your Financial Aid Award
The Hazards of Dreaming About Colleges
Financial aid image by hatcheckgirl. CC 2.0.