how to pay for college

College Coach learned today that the Department of Education (DoE) is changing the way the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (the FAFSA) defines a student’s family. Starting with the 2014-2015 FAFSA, which becomes available on January 1, 2014, students will be required to provide information about the adults in their custodial household without regards for marital status or gender. You can read the DoE’s announcement of these pending changes here:

Until this change, the DoE had defined a student’s family as the parent with whom the student lived the most in the prior twelve months, and that person’s different-gender spouse, if there was one. This meant that the parents who disclosed information on the FAFSA were:

  • The student’s different-gender married parents
  • The student’s different-gender married parent with whom the student lives and stepparent
  • One of the student’s parents, if the student was in a household headed by same-gender parents (even if they were married) or unmarried different-gender parents
  • The student’s single parent, if the parent the student lived with was unmarried

Starting in 2014-15, the parents required to disclose information on the FAFSA will be:

  • The student’s different-gender married parents
  • The student’s different-gender married parent with whom the student lives and stepparent
  • The student’s two parents, whether or not they are married and regardless of gender, if they live in the same home as the student
  • The student’s single parent, if the student lives in a household headed by only one adult or if only one of the unmarried adults in the household is the student’s biological or adoptive parent

How Will This Change Impact Financial Aid Decisions?

The old definition of family was often criticized for both failing to adequately capture the resources available to a college student and providing aid to some students who did not need it. It also complicated the financial aid process for children of divorced parents. The new definition of family will include more of the student’s available resources, and should allow colleges and governments to target financial aid funds to students who are more likely to need them.

The timing of the announcement, however, will be problematic for some students. Many students currently enrolled in or entering college for the first time this year made their college choice based on financial aid offers put together using the former definition of family. Some may now face a reduction in their financial aid awards for their future, upper-class years. They could be unprepared for the increased burden on their families and may need to borrow more to meet their costs.

College Coach advises students who are likely to be affected by this change to reach out to their colleges’ financial aid offices as soon as possible. They need to find out how their financial aid packages will change as a result of the DoE’s shift in defining the family, and figure out a plan for covering their future college costs.



Written by College Coach
College Coach® is the nation’s leading provider of educational advising, offering expert guidance from the best college admissions consultants on the college admissions and finance process. Our goal is to help each student maximize his or her chances of success through services focused on their personal desires, goals, individual strengths, and accomplishments.